When I was given my itinerary, I was told that we were going to go to the outskirts to see the waterfalls and the River of Thousand Lingas in Phnom Kulen. It was until the third day that it occurred to me that it was going to be a hike, and unfortunately for me, I did not bring any hiking shoes or even my running shoes, despite this trip being an “adventure”. I only had a pair of room slippers, a pair of canvas shoes and, well, my black Converse sneakers. But I guess, even the most prepared backpacker can encounter random stuff that are not part of the plan. Might as well go with it, right?
The ride to Phnom Kulen was about 2 hours from the Angkor complex, but it could take you faster if you are taking a car. I could probably compare it to going to the province via the national highway on a tricycle. It was slightly dangerous, but it was a steady ride.
The map at the entrance of the foot of the mountain showed the path, not that it matters, since there were no smaller maps you can carry along with you. There were markers specifying how far you are from the main site and the main site was 1.5 kilometers from the entrance. Again, I was reminded that this was a hike. 1.5 kilometers of hiking on my Converse sneakers.
The first 500 meters were a challenge since there were a lot of boulder-like rocks and the last thing I wanted to happen was to slip and get an injury. Mind you, I was carrying my camera bag, tripod bag, sling bag, water bottle and a plastic bag containing extra clothes and towel. Carrying all those stuff while maintaining my balance was not really an easy thing to do.
I met some tourists who were done with their hike and were already going down the trail. I asked one guy ,who was nice enough to greet me, if the site was “worth the effort”. He just gave me a “meh” and laughed and then went off.
One tourist, who was also going up, overtook me and he was just jumping around the rocks like he knew the place. He was wearing some sort of leather topsiders. I felt relieved that I was not the only one wearing non-hiking shoes. A few minutes later, two Chinese-looking ladies (well, I was not sure of their nationalities, but since they were both chinky-eyed, I just assumed they were Chinese) were trailing behind me, one tried to make a conversation by saying, “we’re going to follow you”, while the other grunted, “what if we get lost?”. That slightly bothered me, considering I was not offering any assistance, and then the other already started doubting me, almost to the point of accusation. Eventually, they decided to take a bit of a rest at the nearby resting station.
At around 1 kilometer, the slope became more steep, boulders were bigger, more than twice my size. The pathway was difficult to traverse despite the presence of arrows leading the correct path. I really had to be careful because the stones were rounded, some covered with moss, which made them more slippery. You could also hear the sound of the water from the river, which was a sign that you are near.
The site was actually a simple one. The river from the mountain flows through a small riverbed embedded with stone carvings and a set of lingas. I took my time with the area and with the help of a local that was guarding the area, I was able to take pictures of the stone carvings.
The tour did not stop there. The path going down was slightly different because you have to follow the river’s path in order to see the other lingas. The water looked murky, probably due to the soil underneath and it gave the water a rusty color. Despite the shallow riverbed, the flow of the water was remakably fast. You could also see a lot of butterflies fluttering around, and for some reason, I imagined Buddha meditating with butterflies around him.
A little bit down path was the falls. I mentioned earlier that I brought some extra clothes and towel because I was told that I can take a bath at the falls. However, upon seeing the falls, I became hesitant, primarily because this is a sacred place to the Khmer people. Secondly, even if I wanted to take a bath so bad, the cold water might shock my system after that intense hike.
After taking pictures of the area, I prepared myself for a long way down. It was faster, but I still had to be careful. I was slightly day dreaming while I was going down, imagining myself in a RPG game in an ancient world that is Siem Reap. The lingas were actually scales of a mythological snake that sleeps in the mountains, and the other mythological creatures hidden in the temples of the Angkor complex. Yeah, my imagination went that far! Hahaha!
A little further down, I reflected on the hike that I just went through. I was glad I did that, proud even, especially wearing my Converse sneakers. As a kid, I hated hiking. My dad took us to the province so we could go to the mountains near where he grew up. I didn’t like it at all, especially when the soil was wet from the rain. I am more of a beach person to be honest, so finishing that hike was a major accomplishment.
Photos from my Flickr.
PS. I read from other sites that the falls I went to was one of the falls, but it wasn’t the “majestic” falls the books were referring to. I guess there is still another reason to go back! 🙂