The river of Thousand Lingas

Located 30 kms northeast of Siem Reap, is the Phnom Kulen National Park. This was not part of our original itinerary but we visited this place as per our guide Sarath’s suggestion. A long drive along a mud road through a jungle took us to this destination. A giant reclining Buddha, a waterfall and a thousand lingas carved on the river bed are the attractions here.

Brief history :

Phnom Kulen (Mountain of Lychees in Khmer) is the birthplace of Khmer civilisation. It was here that King Jayavarman II declared himself the King of the Khmer Empire . He started the Devaraja cult where the King is equated to God and that is reflected in many of the faces in the ancient temples we saw at Angkor

His successors expanded the empire and built several temples and monuments here. Today, this area is a partially forested site with temples, ancient reservoirs, ponds, plots ,ceramic kilns and rock paintings sites ; all part of an ancient urban complex. Mahendraparvata or Phnom Kulen represents a significant milestone in urban development.

Legend of Mahendra Parvata

During the Khmer period, this area was called Mahendraparvata…… Mahendra ( The Great Indra in Sanskrit) and parvata (mountain). It is very significant as it is one of the earliest capitals of the Angkor period ranging between the 9th and 15th centuries. . Legend has it that Mahendraparvata was the mountain lifted to Lanka by Hanuman to extract Sanjeevani ( a lifesaving herbal plant)

Mahendraparvata on Phnom Kulen has suffered damages from the ravages of time, looting during the Cambodian war, climate change and other factors. Following the collapse of the Khmer regime in the 15th century, Phnom Kulen was largely abandoned except for the reclining buddha which was a pilgrim centre. During the Khmer Rouge period, it became their strong hold and many statues were relocated to Phnom Penh while others were looted and fell into private hands.

It was only in 2008 that the Angkor authorities have started excavations, explorations here leading to many new findings. Restoration and conservation activities are now on.

The river of Thousand Lingas

This mountain range is also the place of origin of the Siem Reap river. It occupies the position of a local aquifer for the entire region draining most of the plateau before reaching Angkor. It is believed that water which flows over the images of Gods is purified. The King wanted his subjects to get pure water and that is probably the cause of The Thousand Lingas and other images carved on the river beds. The entire water from the rivers, channels and other aquifer network ultimately enters the Tonle Sap lake which we will visit in our future episodes.

The Kbal Spean river which is a small tributary of the Siem Reap river flows through this National Park. The Kbal Spean river is known as the Sahasralinga River( River of thousand lingas). [Sahasra in Sanskrit is thousand and Linga is the symbol of Shiva the Hindu God.]

It was indeed amazing to see the innumerable lingas carved on the stones of the river bed. They are carved in grid like fashion and often vary in size. Take a look…

A board displayed by the roadside tells us the location of the lingas.

The site of the Thousand Lingas

A short walk along a trail in a jungle leads us to the Kbal Spean river and the lingas.

The Lingas carved in grid like arrangement

In addition to the lingas, there are other carvings on the riverbed too. Take a look at one of Lord Vishnu…..

The face of Lord Vishnu carved on the river bed

A 250 metres walk along the trail by the river side takes us to a pool which has different coloured water. It looks like a spring from which the water is flowing out.

The spring pool with different coloured water

Our next destination was Kulen Waterfall.

Kulen Waterfall

A long walk on an uneven road with occasional slippery boulders lead us to the first stage of the Kulen waterfall. This waterfall falls from a height of around 5 metres .

Kulen Waterfall level one

Some more walking on uneven boulders and finally a steep metal stairway led us to the second level of the waterfall. Here the water falls from a height of around 20 metres. There is a beautiful swing chair close to the falls. Many locals were enjoying a bath in the falls.

Kulen Waterfall level two

A beautiful swing chair close to the waterfall

The other important location in the National park is the Pagoda or temple of the reclining Buddha.

Preah Ang Thom

Preah Ang Thom is the most venerated and worshipped Buddha statue in the Kulen mountain from the post-Angkorian period. (12th to 16th centuries) It is 8 meter long statue of the reclining Buddha reaching nirvana. The statue is carved on to the side of a huge natural sandstone boulder. A staircase and a shelter over Buddha has been added later.

A statue outside the temple entrance.

As one reaches the temple parking area, there are plenty of stalls selling eatables ,souvenirs and flowers.

A lady selling lotuses, hats and souvenirs and a stall selling local herbs outside the temple

A flight of stairs with a Naga balustrade on either side and an arch leads one into the temple.

The stairs with Naga balustrade and the arch at the temple entrance

This is a very sacred place of worship for the Khmer people and it can be sensed as we enter through the arch. The complex has plenty of shrines of various sizes with statues of Buddha , Shiva, Ganesha and other Hindu Gods. Some pictures…

A beautifully carved shrine at the complex

A Buddha shrine

A shrine with Hindu Gods Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesha

The beautifully carved Naga statue ( well preserved unlike most others which were in ruins)

A music performance at the temple complex

Many Buddha statues at the base of a huge boulder

The temple itself is at various levels and after each level, there is a flight of stairs.

The Shrine and the steps leading to the top most level on the side of a boulder

At the top most level is the most important deity of the temple, the Reclining Buddha.

Face of Reclining Buddha

With the Reclining Buddha

Outside the shrine of the reclining Buddha is a huge gong which all the devotees strike as they leave the shrine.

After the climb up to the top of the temple and the climb down, a cool tender coconut was very welcome. The coconuts here are huge and more sweet than what we find in India.

The sweet and cool tender coconut water rejuvenated us

Boarding the bus once again with Sarath, we headed to the Floating Villages and the Tonle Sap Lake , the largest fresh water lake in South East Asia.

See you next week at the Floating Village near Tonle Sap Lake. Till then, do subscribe, like and comment on my blog. Your feedbacks are very welcome too!

Siem Reap

I had the opportunity to visit Siem Reap in Cambodia as part of a group tour where we covered Vietnam and Cambodia. We did Vietnam first and then moved to Cambodia. The forthcoming blogs are part of this group tour that I undertook in late 2022.

Let me first introduce you to the wonderful group of people with whom I did this amazing trip. We were a group of fun loving seniors, some of them my medical college classmates. The others in the group were also very warm and friendly and you will get to see glimpses of all the fun we had as I take you along. My travel buddy was Dr Margaret, my classmate whom we all fondly call Maggie. Since the word Maggie is associated with a brand of noodles and we were buddies, I got the nickname Pasta. From this itself you will get an idea of the camaraderie in the group. This warmth and friendliness went a long way in making the tour more enjoyable!! Many of them had carried loads of snacks and other items which we all thoroughly enjoyed especially during our long bus rides.

Our Viet Cam tour group.

We arrived Siem Reap from Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam, one beautiful day in December 2022. This was my first visit to Cambodia.

Siem Reap is a resort town in North western Cambodia best known for the Angkor ruins. It is home to the World famous Angkor Wat temple, and various other temples at Angkor Thom. It served as the seat of the Khmer kingdom between the 9th and 15th centuries. Today, it is the capital of Siem Reap province and the second largest city in Cambodia.

Siem Reap literally means Siam (Thailand) defeated. French colonial architecture still dominates the streets . It was a quaint village once upon a time. With the Angkor Wat and other temples gaining popularity as a tourist destination, Siem Reap today sees lot of construction and modern amenities to suit the requirements of the tourists.

As we landed at Siem Reap I could see large waterbodies and probably swamps. More on this in my future episodes. For now, let us look around Siem Reap city.

The airport itself is built in traditional design and looks quite different from any regular airport. It is located 7 kms away from the town centre.

Aesthetically designed Siem Reap airport ( in contrast to most airport buildings)

Our Guide was Sarath and he received us at the airport and escorted us to our Hotel.

Our Guide in Cambodia Sarath

The hotel room at the Lynnaya Resort was done up in typical Cambodian style with lotus flowers taking the centre stage of the decor. The lotus is omnipresent in Cambodia and is used extensively for various purposes. This is typical of Cambodia and even the towers of Angkor Wat temple are shaped like lotus buds!!

Various artistic expressions using a lotus….

Glimpses of Siem Reap….

Angkor Enterprises office

In preparation for our Angkor Wat tour, our guide took us to the Angkor ticket office and purchased our entry tickets which had to have our photos and so we all completed that formality and were given the tickets for our visit. This ticket is very essential to enter any of the temples here. The ticket was checked at multiple entry points.

The Angkor Enterprise office

Angkor Museum

Siem Reap also has an Angkor Museum.

This museum has exhibits covering the history, art, architecture and culture of the Khmer Empire.

The Angkor Museum

Pub Street

Pub Street ; traditionally known for its bars, is at the heart of tourist activity in Siem Reap. It has a wide selection of restaurants , bars, nightclubs, street food, shops, stalls and just about everything. Initially this area was primarily residential. Walking around Pub street and soaking in the ambience is in itself an experience. Traditional Cambodian street food stalls attract lot of tourists.

Many places here function round the clock but comes alive after 7 pm .As the evening gives way to night, the streets become active with loud music, and the party spills on to the streets.

Pub Street

A Tuk Tuk is the local equivalent of an autorickshaw and is seen everywhere on the streets of Siem Reap.

Tuk Tuk

Local Food

Cambodian street food or local food is similar to that in most South East Asian countries. Predominantly non vegetarian with frogs, insects, snakes and other reptiles forming a part of the menu. Rice of course; sticky rice as they call it, is the staple food. Apart from that, lot of coconut and coconut milk preparations are seen particularly as desserts.

Roast Frogs, fish and beef in that order

A sweet made of rice and bananas, rice dumplings and roast bananas in that order

Cambodian Rice

Cambodians eat rice at every meal. No surprise then, that they grow some of the finest rice varieties in the world. Just out of the city, and you can see plenty of rice fields. The heavy monsoons, the Mekong river and the Tonle Sap lake ensure that the crop gets its share of water.

They grow both fragrant rice and white rice. Jasmine Rice from Cambodia is considered the best quality rice in the world.

A rice field

Exotic Fruits Of Cambodia

I love fruits and this was something I really enjoyed here. Cambodia had a real good variety of exotic fruits.

The Durian (similar to jackfruit), passion fruit and the extra large tender coconut

The Longan ( similar to lychi ) and the pink coloured dragon fruit

Being a vegetarian, these fruits formed a large part of my daily breakfast in Cambodia. Ours was a vegetarian group and as such we visited a couple of vegetarian Indian restaurants during this tour for lunch and dinner. There are good vegetarian restaurants and Indian restaurants in Cambodia about which I shall mention as I go along.

An authentic Indian Restaurant in Siem Reap which we visited.

The Spirit houses

Have you seen a structure like the one in the picture below and wondered what it is?

The Spirit House outside our hotel

They are the spirit houses seen in front of most houses in many South East Asian countries. Cambodia is no exception and you find them all over. Some are very well maintained like the one in front of our hotel . Others are less ornate. It is a shrine dedicated to the protective spirit of a place. The belief is that the spirits have to be appeased to ward off evil and bring good luck. Bunches of burnt incense sticks can be seen in front of these spirit houses.

Apsara Dance show

We had the opportunity to see the Apsara Dance show which is a traditional Cambodian dance performance. The singers , instrumentalists and dancers together put up a wonderful show of traditional Khmer culture as we enjoyed dinner at the theatre.

A traditional Cambodian orchestra with as many as twenty musicians with strong emphasis on percussion instruments is called “Pinpeat”. The dance performance was accompanied by a traditional orchestra too.

Apsara dancers displayed remarkable poise , agility and grace with slow and rhythmic movements of the body and the limbs synchronous with the music. The dancers were extremely slim and petite and wore headgear and ornaments similar to those seen on the Apsara statues seen in the Angkor Wat temple walls. These dancers practice for years to stretch and flex their bodies as required in this dance form. These dances are inspired by the traditional apsara dancers who entertained the Gods as per the epics.

The Cambodian version of Ramayana is called Reamker and features in many of the traditional dances of Cambodia. In addition to the Apsara dances, other traditional Cambodian dances were also enacted.

Here are some pictures and videos from the show. Take a look…

A statue of King Suryavarman II at the entrance to the theatre.

The Apsaras…note the headgear and ornaments.

A visual demonstration of an epic with the audience in the foreground

The dancers pose with a member of the audience

A traditional Khmer Dance

A video of the Apsara dance with traditional music

A video of a traditional Khmer dance . Note the beat of the music.

These were just glimpses of our stay at Siem Reap. The main purpose of visiting Siem Reap was to visit the Angkor Archaeological Complex. We visited that and also some other archaeological places of interest like Mahendraparvata, the Thousand Shiva Lingas, Phnom Kulen etc. In addition we also visited Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in S E Asia and a remarkable floating village on its banks.

So you can look forward to some remarkable destinations in the forthcoming episodes starting with the main attraction; Angkor Wat which features in my next episode.

Meanwhile do continue your support with feedback and comments .