On our third day in Siem Reap, we wanted to get out. Perhaps the prior day's trip to Beng Mealea had affirmed the good times to be had when you step out of tourist central. Or perhaps it was the thought of cooling off in a waterfall. ;) We used our hotel, the Golden Butterfly Villa (full review here), to arrange a car for the day. Our destination: the waterfall in Phnom Kulen National Park. Ever since Ryan (also with us on this trip) organized the trip to Havasupai Falls in 2012, I'll admit that I've been a waterfall chaser.
Sorry, TLC, but your advice sucks.
Phnom Kulen sits on a mountain top, approximately 2 hours outside of Siem Reap by car. After confirming our plans and the cost with the driver, we crammed into the back of the sedan and stomached the drive with no AC or leg room. What I didn't realize is that by hiring a driver to take us to Phnom Kulen, we also were agreeing for him to funnel us through two additional sites on the way there.
The first stop was an archaeological site at the base of the mountain, the River of 1000 Lingas. We emptied out of the car, and--unsure of what to do--we started hiking along the river.
We didn't have a guide and most of the significance was lost on me, but I did gather some info about this site. To many, lingas are a Hindu symbol of divine energy, associated with the god, Shiva. To the non-Hindu that I am, they were squares with raised bumps, carved in the river bed. As the water passes over these holy carvings, it is sanctified, made holy for the temples downstream. We made two friends along the way, who enticed us into our second game of jump rope in Cambodia.
The next stop on the way to the falls was Preah Ang Thom, home of the largest reclining Buddha in Cambodia. We passed up these steps, lined by children and merchants selling flowers or other offerings.
We removed our shoes (a couple of ladies fought over who would watch our discarded shoes while we went up to the temple. Later, the lady who won demanding payment for her watchfulness) and continued up the steps to view the Buddha. I don't believe there is an explanation for why it is reclining, but it is magnificent, painted gold and surrounded by offerings of vibrant colors. The terrace surrounding the Buddha's room affords a nice view of the surrounding jungle.
We piled into the car again ready for our final destination...the waterfall! As with Preah Ang Thom, we passed through various vendor stalls and merchants before arriving at the falls. The first set of falls was tiny, and I'll admit that I was a little disappointed. We came all this way for a tiny waterfall? :(
Then, we heard a larger thundering sound...there was another waterfall further downstream! We climbed down some structurally questionable wooden stairs to find this bad boy:
I could hardly believe it! It was incredible. Plus, the park was pretty empty, so we were able to enjoy the falls as if they were our own. We waded out to a large rock poking out in the center of the pool and made that home base. From there, we played in the falls and basked in the sun for the rest of the afternoon. Too soon, it was time to leave.
This place has to be Siem Reap's best kept "secret". To be sure, the temples are spectacular, but this place had that intangible...je ne sais quoi. It was peaceful, and beautiful, and it wasn't somewhere we had to "check" off our list, but rather someplace we wandered in hopes of finding something amazing. And we did.
Find me on Trip Advisor (the Other A List)
Genevieve's Restaurant (where we ate after our day by the waterfall)