Siem Reap: Day 3 – 29.3.2015:
Our second full day in Siem Reap started with an early breakfast at 6.30 a.m. in the Mid City Hotel. It was charming – the breakfast usually begins at 7 a.m., but they offered us, to start earlier, as we had to leave so early for a tour of the Phnom Kulen National Park. The road to the Phnom Kulen National Park is a one-way road. So you can drive up to the park only until noon, and just after that, you can drive back towards Siem Reap. The hotel had arranged a driver for us – this time with a car instead of a tuk-tuk ( the official name for them is the French word remorque, but everyone still calls them tuk-tuks. ) because the Park is more than an hour away from the city. They also already had arranged tickets for us. For this area, you need a different pass than the Angkor Wat-Pass.
Our first stop was at Wat Preah Ang Thom, which lies in the mountains. After walking through a little village, we came to the stairs that lead up to the temple. The stairway was lined up with beautiful statues and a kind of a gate. While there are also some panhandlers along the stairs, they, fortunately, weren’t demanding. In Buddhism, as I have later learned, alms or alms-giving is the respect given by a lay Buddhist to a Buddhist monk, nun, spiritually-developed person or other sentient beings. It is not charity as presumed by Western interpreters. It is closer to a symbolic connection to the spiritual realm and to show humility and respect in the presence of the secular society.
At the end of the stairway we came to a temple and then looked out for the reclining Buddha, we heard about. The way up to the Buddha – it is on some kind of cliff further up – lead through an area, where some religious service was going on, and people seemed to take off their shoes before they walked the stairs further up. We weren’t sure about the etiquette and didn’t want to disturb a religious ceremony, so we waited. Behind us had been a group of Cambodian tourists, who seemed like they would know about the etiquette, so we watched them. When they took off their shoes and walked up, we just did the same and finally came to the reclining Buddha, atop the massive boulder. It was actually the third reclining Buddha I visited, after my Japan trip the previous year and in Bangkok way back in the day. It is carved on the huge boulder and quite imposing but said to be not the most significant reclining Buddha in Cambodia. There is something odd about this Buddha at Phnom Kulen which I cannot put my fingers on. Later, upon research, I’ve learned that he is lying on his left side which said to be an offense against the strict rules of Buddhist iconography. Nevertheless, it was impressive for me and my companion.
It was quite busy up at the Buddha, so we soon walked back down, took back our shoes and tipped the woman, who had looked after our shoes.
We walked the next stairs down back to the village, and my friend bought flip-flops before we left. It was just a short drive from the village to the “1.000 Lingas”. We walked from the parking area along a river, and there were reliefs inside the river bed. It actually sounded more exciting than it was –we didn´t see that much and turned around when we came to some kind of well, where other tourists put that water on their heads like it was medicine. In the Hindu tradition, water flowing over the lingas is sacred and holy, and that explains why Cambodians and tourists alike bottled the water – Healing water, we assumed, hopefully.
Back at the parking lot, the driver waited for us, and we drove further – for us – to the main attraction: the Kulen Waterfall. There’s a big parking lot, and from there we walked through a tourist area with shops and restaurants to the first and uppermost tier of the waterfall. The first tier is a small fall where a lot of people already bathing. From there a path leads further down where we came to stairs, that lead us further downwards until we arrived at the second tier of the waterfall – the high fall.
While my friend wasn’t in the mood and stayed on a boulder in the riverbed (there isn’t really a flat surface to sit), I took a bath and soaked beneath the majestic waterfall – quite refreshing in the Cambodian heat. The waterfall is quite a sight, and the jungle setting was quite a difference to the waterfalls I’ve seen on my Iceland trip.
After swimming and taking some photos, we walked back upwards to the first stage of the fall and back to the restaurant area where we had soup, rice and fries for lunch. It was still before noon, and the area got more crowded quickly – Cambodian locals seem to come here, many to have a picnic. It looked like you can rent picnic areas or little huts there. Next to the restaurants were also some food stalls.
We were ready to say goodbye to the waterfall and head on to the next attraction, Banteay Srei. It is located relatively nearby the National Park and therefore ideal to combine it with the Kulen National Park on a day tour. We were already very positively surprised when we entered the park, that surrounds the temple. It is a modern and clean complex with toilets, information, a cafe and paths in a park-like atmosphere. The temple itself isn’t that huge but exceptionally beautiful – maybe the most beautiful temple in the area – with exquisite details and ornaments.
At the exit of the temple, there were signs for themed walking path options – we chose the “Natural Walk” which led around the temple and back to the parking lot, where our driver would wait. There were several viewing platforms along the way, and you walk past a swamp area, where also boat rides are offered.
At the end of the relaxed walk, we came to an exhibition hall and a modern cafe, where we stopped for a while, before returning to the parking lot.
Our friendly and reliable driver already waited for us, and so we continued to our final stop for our day tour – the Butterfly Centre. There we were accompanied by an English-speaking guide, who enthusiastically showed us around and told us a lot about the butterflies and the centre. It is a beautiful and well-groomed area, and we saw lots of beautiful butterflies and – the heat… – relaxed a bit there.
Finally, we drove back to the hotel, where we cooled down in the pool before we later had dinner in one of the many restaurants, which are located on the same street as the hotel.