"The Mountain of the Great Indra" is the place, in the south-east of the plateau, where King Jayavarman II (c. 790 - c. 835) is said to have founded, in 802, the independent and unified kingdom.
The ruins of the temples spread over an area of 10 km north-south by 5 km east-west.
Damrei Krap , Neak Ta , and Prasat Kraham show Cham or Java influence. The monuments are badly neglected, overgrown and barricaded by brushwood. Most sandstone artefacts, even complete entrance doors, have been robbed.
Phnom Kulen area (Map from CAC).
Phnom Kulen Project
In 2007 a project has been started, intending to "conduct global archaeological field studies including prospections, surveys, excavations and conservation".
Preah Thom or: Preah Ang Thom is a relief of the transcending Buddha on the top of a sandstone boulder. It is of post-Angkorian age, dated 1586.
Nearby is Prasat Kraol Romeas , locally called Prasat Toek Thlea , a small laterite temple from the Bayon era, in poor condition. It is surrounded by an enclosure wall, which is cut through by a river. In the water are some reliefs. The site is disfigured by picnic shelters.
A few meters down, there is a waterfall. Some hundred meters west of Preah Thom is a second river with reliefs.
There are also some mediocre sights.
The Phnom-Kulen Scam
Agents, guides and drivers may be very keen to bring you to this "Phnom Kulen", and to make money with it. But:
- Preah Thom is not “consecrated ground” or the “cradle of Cambodia”; Mahendraparvata is 6 km south-east.
- Preah Thom is not the biggest Buddha. The reclining Buddha at Prasat Phnom Baset, north of Phnom Penh, is older and bigger.
- Picturing the Buddha lying on his left side is an offence against the strict rules of Buddhist iconography; this relief is an awkward copy or a product of slovenliness.
- From Preah Thom there is no view to the plain of Angkor.
The trip is not worth 20 $ or a day of your stay in Angkor.
The beaten path
From Angkor you follow the road from Preah Dak village to the north. At the junction 2 km before Banteay Srei you keep right. After the next junction is a checkpoint, it is closed at 12 am.
Foreigners pay $ 20 toll per person to the private owner of the road. Cheaper tickets are available at Riverside Hotel in Siem Reap.(Lonely Planet Cambodia, 2008, p. 177.)
A fine laterite road goes up the hill.
Preah Thom is a profit-orientated, unfriendly, dirty place, with poor
food stalls and no toilets. There are a lot of local visitors, mainly
on the weekends.
Via Svay Leu
You can stay overnight in the guesthouse in Svay Leu (for this you need mosquito coils and a torch).
Next morning you walk up to Wat Ta Pen , east of Ta Pen village. You don't need a scout for this pretty and bustling footpath. There is one fork near the foot of the hill, here you keep right.
Your driver goes via Preah Thom and Anlong Thom village to Wat Ta Pen. (Locals pay $1 road fee.)
Another pleasant foot walk
At the junction before the checkpoint you turn right, towards Beng Mealea. After 6.5 km is Wat Prohm Bram Bei ("Eight Brahmas") on the left. Leave your vehicle at a shop on the foot of the concrete stairway. After some 20 minutes easy walk you are at Wat Preah Cup , a sacred spring, (bring a bottle with you) and a swimming pool. The relief shows the Buddha standing between a kneeling elephant and a coiled Naga. It looks like a clumsy copy and may be from the 16th century or later. There is also a shrine for neak ta (ancestor spirits).
From there a stairway climbs up to the plateau, a fine walk again; first to the "Thousand Linga", then to Preah Thom, 1 to 2 hours, no entrance fee.
Beyond Preah Thom
A poor road leads from Preah Thom to the villages Anlong Thom, Ta Pen, Khla Khmum, and back to Preah Thom. You need a motor bike. The way may be impassable in the rainy season. Take water with you and food; up the hills you will get nothing. To move around you need local scouts, you find them in the villages. You have to walk some distance. Don't try to do this on your own! Maybe there are landmines.
At the edge of the Kulen plateau are some huge sculptures of unknown age, showing animals like an elephant, lions, a frog and a bull. There is an amazing view to the plain of Angkor.
Access to Sra Damrei
At the direct road from Banteay Srei to Beng Mealea you find a place called Sorsey, near Skuon village. Here is a sign in Khmer: "Footpath to Srah Damrei". You climb up this path for an hour or so. It is strenuous but not difficult.
- Parmentier 1927.
- Roveda 2005, p. 328 f.
- CAC, Province de Siem Reap , 2007.