Phnom Kulen – the sacred mountain and the birthplace of the Cambodian origin story

Phnom Kulen – the sacred mountain and the birthplace of the Cambodian origin story

Phnom Kulen is a mountain range in Siem Reap province and is located in the Phnom Kulen National Park of the same name and is considered the birthplace of the Khmer Empire. Translated, the name of the mountain means something like “mountain of lychee fruit”.

Aussicht von der Phnom Kulen Pagode

View from the highest point of Phnom Kulen Pagoda

The historical significance of Phnom Kulen lies in the fact that King Jayavarman II proclaimed the free and independent Khmer Empire there in the 9th century. From then on he had himself called “Deva-raja”, “King of Kings”. The empire (which had been named “Kambuja” by the Khmer themselves) united the somewhat independent principalities of the Chenla Empire and ended the influence of the Java Sea Empire. The former Sanskrit name of the mountain was “Mahendraparvata”, which means the “Great Indra Mountain” (Indra is a deity primarily attributed to Vedic customs, with little consideration in Hindu religious rites).

Under the reign of King Udayadityavarman II, numerous temples and other structures were built, most notably the 1000 Lingas of Kbal Spean in the creek Stung Kbal Spean, which are currently on the waiting list for World Heritage status. The carvings represent fertility and good growth. The water itself is considered sacred due to a Hindu anecdote and was used to irrigate land in the cultivated plains of Angkor.

Wasserfall Phnom Kulen

The fabled waterfalls on Phnom Kulen

Phnom Kulen is also an important site for the region outside of its historical and cultural significance, as the mountain is considered a sacred mountain in Cambodia and a popular pilgrimage site for believers in Hinduism and Buddhism.

Today, Phnom Kulen is a popular place with tourists. A special sight is the reclining Buddha of Preah Ang Thom, which is said to have been carved out of a rock in the 16th century.

The beautiful waterfalls along the way are also a good reason to stop here. The first one is about 5 meters high and 20 meters wide and is surrounded by a shallow pond, the second one measures about 15 meters by 15 meters and invites the brave to cool off in the swimming area below. Especially for visitors, it is recommended to join an organized tour to explore Phnom Kulen, since the access road to the mountain is not particularly well maintained and therefore it can not hurt to be guided by a local tour guide. Arriving by tuk tuk is not possible due to the poor general condition of the road and the gradient. In Phnom Kulen there is much to see and discover, but it is usually enough to plan half a day for the visit.