A playground for locals, Phnom Kulen is a gorgeous day out. The main attraction is the waterfalls at the top of Kulen Mountain and it’s also a great picnic spot; well set up in Cambodian style with hammocks and shelters to keep you shaded from the sun. It’s around 1.5-2 hours drive from Siem Reap and if you go all the way to the top by van or car, you need to get there early, as the road is one-way traffic only.
The birthplace of the ancient Khmer empire, it is said that it was at Phnom Kulen that King Jayavarman II proclaimed Cambodia’s independence from Java.
Additionally it’s a very sacred site with multiple temples easily accessible. Two sites most noted are the Thousand Lingas at Kbal Spean, within the Kulen National Park site and Preah Ang Thom pagoda with its giant reclining Buddha. The area is a magnet to “kru khmer” (natural medicine doctors), and attracts people seeking blessings from its holy waters, particularly the potent life-giving waters at Kbal Spean, that are said to help couples conceive.
Admission and Hours
Phnom Kulen is within the Kulen National Park, which requires a separate ticket to the Angkor Archaeological Park. It’s $20 per person if bought at the gate at the entrance to the mountain but you can ask your guide or driver to obtain tickets for you in town, from the City Angkor Hotel for a reduced rate. Cambodians can enter for free.
If you’re going to the top of the mountain by car, van or moto, you need to go up before 11am. The road is one-way traffic only and the traffic going up finishes early, so don’t be late!
How to Get There
Phnom Kulen is 48km from Siem Reap and can take 1.5-2 hours to reach by car or van, longer by tuk tuk but then that will only be if you want to walk up and back down again (approx. 2 hours each way, and absolutely stunning) as tuk tuk’s aren’t capable of making the steep journey to the top.
The ticket office is at the bottom of Phnom Kulen and is the entrance to the Phnom Kulen National Park. It is here that you need to pay for your ticket, if you didn’t buy it in town, and show your tickets to go through. There are good toilet facilities here.
From the ticket office, it’s another 20 or so minutes of windy roads until you reach the top, where there are lots of markets selling souvenirs, clothing, snacks and drinks. From here you walk the rest of the way, following the grand staircase up to the pagoda or the lower path that leads to the waterfall and the picnic areas.
A taxi/car for the day is around $50 and vans from $60-80.
It’s worth planning your day, as it’s also possible to visit Banteay Srei region on the way back. However if you do wish to see the temples (Banteay Srei and Banteay Samre), you will also need an Angkor pass.
This is a place where Cambodians go to relax and play. In Cambodian culture most people dress conservatively even whilst swimming, so girls – keep to shorts and t-shirts, boys too – or if you must, at least shorts. No bikinis or speedos please!
When entering temples, be sure to remove your shoes and hats. It’s important to wear clothing that covers you from shoulders to knees. If you are not dressed accordingly, then it would be polite not to enter any of the temples.