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4 More Things To Do In Cambodia
Preah Vihear Temple
Perched high in the Dangkrek Mountains is one of the most dramatic of the Angkorean monuments. Look at this and you’ll wonder how anyone managed to build a temple here.
Located on an escarpment the views across the lowlands of Cambodia are nothing short of spectacular.
In Angkorean times Prasat Preah Vihear was one of the most important places of pilgrimage and was built over the lifetimes of seven monarchs. The construction began in the reign of Yasovarman 1( 889-910) and continued until Suryavarman 11 reigned from 1112-1152.
Even within the walls of this temple there is a dynastic feel left by these rulers. Like most of the Angkor temples built at this time it was designed to look like Mount Meru and dedicated to Shiva. The Preah Vihear Temple is constructed along a north south axis with five pavilions or gopura decorated with carvings.
Most people begin by entering the temple to the sandstone Gopura V where the monumental stairway leads to the Thai border. Even today there is a dispute that the Thai people see part of the temple as theirs.
As you walk through the complex the eastern staircase has been rebuilt and was originally used by Cambodian pilgrims. Along the walls are carvings of the Churning of the ocean of Milk which is similar to Angkor Wat.
The best preserved parts are around Gopura 1 and the views looking out across the plains are stunning. The cliff near here is popular for picnics because of the views.
This temple is close to the Thai border and subject to security checks.
It is worth checking the latest security position before travelling and although the area has been demined it is inadvisable to stray off the well-trodden paths. But go, like the pilgrims have and enjoy those amazing views.
Visiting Mondulkiri Cambodia
One of the least known and visited areas of Cambodia is the Mondulkiri region. But there are lots of things for visitors to enjoy.
Mondulkiri is very different to the rest of Cambodia and is famed for the Bunong people and their elephants. The name Mondulkiri means the Meeting of the Hills and this is a beautiful area of rolling hills and a more temperate climate.
Visitors can spend time in traditional villages and learn about the elephants. One of the best places to do this is the Elephant Valley Project.
There are opportunities to spot other species of wildlife on guided treks and these include leopards, bears, monkeys and the famous elephants. There are lots of bird species around Mondulkiri too.
Sen Monorom is the main village in Mondulkiri and the best place to get elephant tours and other attractions. The Monorom Waterfall is another popular day out from the village and is lovely.
The Elephant tours are the big attraction though, and who could resist a walk through the jungle with these beautiful creatures. If you plan on staying for a few days here to learn more about the locals and the elephants then you’ll find homestays as well as guest houses which are basic and welcoming.
There are restaurants too where you can taste local specialties. You’ll find local crafts and markets and a generally laid back lifestyle. The area can get chilly at night so it is recommended you bring a warm jacket for the evenings.
For a very different perspective on Cambodia this area n Mondulkiri is worth a visit to support the conservation and see this way of life in the hills.
Battambang Bat Caves In Phnom Sampeou
Phnom Sampeou is very close to Battambang City and popular with visitors. It is renowned for its temple complex, bad tempered macaques, and bats. The best way to get up to the top of the peak is by a steep stairway on the entry road. You’ll get to the golden stupa at the summit from where you’ll have amazing views.
From here by turning left and heading under the gate marked with a bas relief of Eiy Sei you’ll see a deep canyon with stalactites, bats, and greenery. There is still a gun emplacement up here but most visitors head to the Sunset viewing balcony nearby.
This area is famous for its bats but has a darker side to the history. The Khmer Rouge used these caves to torture and kill people. Even today human remains can still be seen around the caves. Today the Killing Caves of Phnom Sampeau are a place of pilgrimage. There’s a staircase lined with greenery leading to a golden Buddha and some of the skulls of people killed here have been left as a memorial.
As for the bats, each evening at dusk a huge column emerges from a cave higher up. This is a fascinating display of thousands of bats flying around and lasts around 30 minutes. The sky is literally turned black during this display which attracts visitors from far and wide. Of course, if bats are not your thing then it is best not to go as they can and do swoop around when making these displays.
The bat caves are a short drive from Battambang and easily reached by taxi.
Kbal Spean, A Hidden Treasure
Just to the north east of Angkor is one of the hidden treasures that few visitors to Cambodia get to see. A carved riverbed with natural rock bridge is another of the famous Angkor sites, and also known as the River of a Thousand Lingas. Look closely at the carvings here and you’ll see elaborately carved lingas and Hindu deities in the stonework.
Kbal Spean was discovered in 1969 by Jean Boulbet when a local hermit took him to the site. Unfortunately, just after this discovery, the civil war meant that Kbal Spean was off limits for years and only really became safe in 1998. Even today visitors must stay on the marked paths as there may be unexploded ordnance in the area. Taking water on the walk is essential as it is hot and there are no supplies on the route.
One of the best parts of Kbal Spean is the 2km walk uphill to the site itself. This is through jungle and there are beautiful rock formations along the route. The path either leads to a waterfall or the famous carvings. At the bridgehead there are some beautiful carvings but some have suffered damage over the years. Towards the river there are good carvings of Vishnu and Shiva. As you head downstream the linga carvings start to appear along the riverbed. Animal carvings including a cow and frog can be seen around the waterfall and you can get to the base of the falls via a wooden stairway.
Another attraction in this area is the Angkor centre for Conservation of Biodiversity which is near the base of the Kbal Spean Trail. This centre highlights the endangered species in the area and is very interesting. The area is best done by heading to the riverbed first, followed by the waterfall to cool off before returning to the Biodiversity centre.