Ta Phrom, a Buddhist monastery and university was built during the reign of the Khmer King Jayavarman VII, the King locally referred to as J-7. The temple is entirely made of sandstone. The trees growing out and around the ruins and the jungle surroundings make it particularly photogenic. There is a conservation project to keep the temple merged with the jungle but accessible to tourists. It’s eerie quality was used as a location in the film Tomb Raider.
Walking around the grounds we located the carving of a stegosaurus, or is it a razorback hog?
There were also wonderful images of Apsara dancers and two people working a large mortar and pestle.
Leaving the temple we headed to the National Park and mountain area Phnom Kulen. A scenic overlook on a one-way road up the mountain (the road switches to a one way down the mountain at noon) offered a panorama of the area chosen as the first capital of the Khmer dynasty. Recently, LiDAR images have shown this is where much of the stone for Angkor Wat was quarried. Our guide told us that this site is called “wrinkled rock”.
There is a sandstone Reclining Buddha at the top of the mountain. He is the largest in Cambodia and he was carved from one piece of stone. For many centuries it was open to the elements and watching over the land. It is now in a shed for preservation purposes. This makes it difficult to get a full picture of the enormity of this sculpture. If you want to see this reclining gentleman, there are lots of stairs to climb, shoeless; it is a sacred site.
At the plaza area below the giant Buddha, there are several other statues of Buddha in several other popular poses. There are also other statues where worshipers ask for fertility, wealth and happiness.
A short walk to the stream that is fed by a holy natural cold-spring reveals the River of a Thousand Lingas and Vishnu. These Lingas were all carved into the stream bed over 1,200 years ago. The water reflection dulls the thousand or more carvings in the water.
The main attraction at Phnom Kulen are the waterfalls. It is a beautiful site even in the dry season. It is about 550 meters of steps down a rickety staircase to the falls. Local vendors are selling food and trinkets and at the falls and there is a swing to enjoy.
Temples, waterfalls and Buddhas all added to the beautiful day.