We travelled to Phnom Kulen this date with a travel tour group. Only 8 tourists are on the tour. Seven women and Kurtis. One girl from Italy, 2 from Argentina, 2 from Poland and us three Canadians.
The tour guide is the same one who took me to Kompong Phluk. His English is quite good. He says he learned his English from tourists and he hasn't taken formal English schooling. He says he knows he has trouble with some words as tourists have so many different accents. His English provided a few giggles for me: at Kompong, he regularly referred to the 'wife beatings' in the community - it took several repitions before I realized he meant 'white buildings'. On this tour he spoke of the 'climbing buddha' on the top of the mountain, that would have been interesting to see however from reading about the area I knew he was referring to a reclining buddha. The guide also wouldn't or couldn't say 'penis' he referred to the "lingas" (carvings in the river) as parts only boys have, so only he and Kurtis had them. He was an odd guide; some of his fingernails extended at least 1/2 inch beyond his fingertips; he liked small children. On the first tour he took a small child, maybe 1yr and carried her most of the tour. On this tour, he squatted down to talk to two young naked boys who were playing in the sand and preceded to flick one of their penis with his finger. I stepped forward and jokingly said "You like small children" he glared at me and ignored me the rest of the trip. I'm not sure if he didn't realize some of us could see what he was doing or.....?
Phnom Kulen is a National Park about 60 kms from Siem Reap. Phnom means mountian and Kulen means lychee. There were plenty of lychee trees but this was not the right time to see any fruit. This area was also where the Khmer Rouge made their last stand in 1979 and many smaller factions continued to fight until the late 1990's. The Phnom Kulen area is still one of the remaining areas that has not been demind - the rule -is stay with your guide and don't go off on your own.
Because of the poor roads it takes us 1.5 hours to go the 60 kms. We first go to see the "River of a Thousand Carvings" . These are ancient carvings ehich were made in the stream bed over which the river flows. Many of the carvings are still very clear. Primarily we can see the linga's small raised knobs and some 'yoni' carved holes. Yoni represent woman and lingas represent man. In some areas goddesses and other things are carved. The carvings were blessed making them sacred and the belief is that having the water flowing over the blessed carvings purifies it. Women who are having trouble conceiving come and sit in the water and they become pregnant.
Around the stream are a few local vendors cooking items for tourists. Although we didn't purchase anything, it was interesting to note how they were cooking. They are very resourceful people. We also saw a small boy pulling a homemade toy car. It was a pop bottle with sand in it for weight and plastic tires added to it that did roll.
We then went to the famous reclining buddha. To get there we had to walk through the gauntlet of shops, vendors and beggars. The shops were selling interesting items including linga shaped sling shots. It amazed me several times how - walking through dirt, poverty, garbage laden land - then turning a corner to see an elaborate area with statues, pagodas, gardens and caretakers. We had a significant climb to get to the Buddha. The first level included a large stairway - large enough to have a roll of beggars and disabled persons on each side.
We reached a landing where a small group of musicians were playing traditional instruments, some vendors were displaying food and some local children were playing. We saw a girl about 10 yrs driving a scooter with three friends on it.
We then had more stairs to climb - around a rock to reach a landing to see the reclining buddha. The Buddha was carved out of a single large sandstone in the 13th century. The view from the top of the mountain is beautiful.
Our next stop was the local village. We walked through it to get to a section of river where we could see the waterfall. Our guide pointed out different things through the village that were of interest including red bananas.
A pool has formed at the base of the waterfall that is safe for swimming. The locals have set up change rooms and have metal boxes with locks for tourists - $1 to change and get a locker box. The water was refreshing on s day of 36°. And, in this pool were the fish that eat dead skin, so while we're were cooling off the fish were feasting.
Our tour finished off with a stop to see how palm sugar was made and to see a local leather carver. All in all an interesting day.