A lot of people now combine Siem Reap and Koh Chang in a holiday. It’s the ideal combination of culture and beach. There are also a lot of interesting tours you can do in Siem Reap , aside from the usual temple tour to Angkor Wat.
For example, a couple of years ago I went to Siem Reap and did a nice bike ride out to a temple complex called ‘Beng Melea’. This is located about 70Km away. A ride on flat, mostly dirt roads through villages that enables you to see some of the real Cambodia. And at the end of it you have Beng Melea temple which is a real ‘Tomb Raider’ style temple, not rebuilt yet large enough to explore but without being too big that you get bored of it.
Last week I took another trip to Siem Reap and I decided it was time for a bit more of a challenge. Luckily Grasshopper – the cycling tour company I went with last time, had just started a new day ride to a place called Kulen Mountain. Kulen is the birthplace of the Khmer civilisation and as such is home to temples dating back to the 9th Century.
So it looked pretty interesting. Kulen is over an hour’s drive from Siem Reap and once you reach the mountain it’s then another hour in the van to get to the starting point of the ride. The mountain isn’t particularly high. In any other country, barring the equally flat Netherlands, it would be more of a big hill than an actual mountain. But it does cover a very large area. So large that although over 50 temples have been discovered hidden in the jungle, there remain an estimated 100 – 200 more buried under undergrowth somewhere on the hillsides.
Our ride wasn’t about seeing old stuff or even visiting the waterfall for which Kulen is also well known for. I was there at the weekend before New Year and so the car park was packed with day tripping locals. They all come to swim in the waterfall and eat in the riverside restaurants.
On paper our route wasn’t so bad. Equal parts uphill and downhill, 40Km or so. It’s also pretty hot, around 35C. But still not so bad. The route was mainly on dirt trails and tracks, some wide – others just narrow footpaths through the jungle. The problem as that as the trails and tracks were so dry the 40Km was on sand for most of the way. If you’ve ever tries riding a bike in sand, you’ll know how hard that is. Not only when you’re going uphill, but also trying to stay on when you head downhill, come around a corner and plough straight into 15cm deep sand.
So that added to the fun. :-)
Halfway point in the ride was a remote temple on the top of the hill. The temple itself had long gone. But there were large 1,000 year old statues of an elephant, lions and bull still standing at what would have been there entrance to the temple. A pretty impressive sight and one that hardly any visitors to the hill see. There’s no road, so you have to get a lift on a scooter from one of the National Park guys, walk or cycle there.
Heading back, we took a different route, through small hamlets hidden on the hillside where life was very simple. We took a break at one bemused local’s house where our guide got hold of some coconuts as liquid refreshment. Finally we made it back to the restaurant which should have been the lunch break. It was now nearer 2.30pm. There should still have been a final ride down the mountain to come. But after a very large, very leisurely riverside lunch plus a few beers, we decided that it was better to take the van down the hill.
And so ended the adventure. No spectacular sights and we didn’t finish the ride. But it was a great experience and very tiring, but enjoyable, day out. Well worth it if you want to do something different from the herds. Guaranteed you won’t encounter any huge Chinese or Korean tour groups on this ride.
The photos aren’t great as my camera was covered in dust and I was continually wiping the lens with a very sweaty t-shirt, which I don’t think Canon recommends.