A playground for locals, Phnom Kulen (literally Mountain of the Lychees) is a gorgeous day out. The main attraction is the waterfalls at the top of Kulen Mountain and it’s also a great picnic spot; well set up in Cambodian style with hammocks and shelters to keep you shaded from the sun. It’s around 1.5-2 hours’ drive from Siem Reap and if you go all the way to the top by van or car, you need to get there early, as the road is one-way traffic only.
The birthplace of the ancient Khmer empire, it is said that it was at Phnom Kulen that King Jayavarman II proclaimed Cambodia’s independence from Java.
Phnom Kulen, meaning “Mountain of Lychees” is a mountain range in Siem Reap Province, Cambodia. Rather than a hill range, Phnom Kulen is an isolated chain of small mountain plateau of moderate height lying south of the Dangrek Mountains. The range stretches for about 40 km in a WNW – ESE direction and is located some 48 km north of Siem Reap.
Its highest point is 487 m and its height is quite regular, averaging 400 m all along the range.
Geologically Phnom Kulen is formed of sandstone. It was important as a quarry in Angkorian times, the major quarries being located in the southeastern angle of the massif. It also has a major symbolic importance for Cambodians as the birthplace of the ancient Khmer Empire, for it was at Phnom Kulen that King Jayavarman II proclaimed independence from Java in 804 CE. Jayavarman II initiated the Devaraia cult of the king, a linga cult, in what is dated as 804 CE and declaring his independence from Java of whom the Khmer had been a vassalage state (whether this is actually “Java”, the Khmer chvea used to describe Champa, or “Lava” (a Lao kingdom) is debated, as well as the legend that he was earlier held as a ransom of the kingdom in Java. See Higham’s The Civilization of Angkor for more information about the debate). During the Angkorian era the relief was known as Mahendraparyata (the mountain of Great Indra).