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Mention to anyone that you are going to Siem Reap and the first thing they instantly mention is ‘Angkor Wat’ and the temples (or ‘Tomb Raider’). This was our second time backpacking in southeast Asia, and we were spending a week in Cambodia, with most of our time in Siem Reap. As we had given ourselves more time to explore further afield, we wanted to discover the ‘road less travelled’ so booked a private ‘Waterfall and Village’ 1 day tour with Asean Angkor Guide, which takes in Kulen Mountain and Kampong Phluk fishing village, where all the houses are built on stilts.
Wat Preah Ang Thom
At our hotel we were warmly greeted by our tour guide Mr Sunny and driver Mr Sochea. As we went to pick-up our Kulen Mountain tourist pass (similar to the type of pass you need to get to explore Angkor Wat), Sunny went through our itinerary for the day in more detail and also explained in great depth the recent history and atrocities that had Cambodia had suffered and how much the country had changed over the last few days.
With Kulen Mountain looming into view, we drove up the winding, steep and dusty path (given how narrow it is, cars are only allowed to go up one way until noon, and then the direction switches back so all the cars and mini vans can depart). This is known as the most ‘sacred’ mountain in Cambodia and our first walk was up a small hill to Wat Preah Ang Thom, a sacred temple and place of worship for many Cambodians.
As we made the short ascent up, some of the village children ran with us, also offering to look after our shoes whilst we explored the temple complex. As well as visiting the giant (8 metre) reclining Buddha (which is actually carved into the sandstone boulder it sits upon), there are spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding lush green forests.
Click here to read our things to do in Siem Reap (besides temples) blog post
River of a Thousand Lingas
We then visited the famous River of a Thousand Lingas, with the riverbed displaying carvings of Hindu Gods and symbols believed to date back to around 800AD – to see these magnificent etchings that were over 1000 years old before your very eyes was incredible. We were lucky as the river was quite low the day we visited so how well you see them does depend on the river level and time of year.
Kulen Mountain Waterfalls
After another short five minute hike, we reached the waterfalls (which had also had a brief cameo in Tomb Raider). The second (and more impressive waterfall) is suitable for swimming so bring along your swimming trunks / costume – there is also a small cottage industry with the locals renting out swimming gear, a small changing room plus safety boxes for $1 a time. The size of waterfalls varies according to the seasons and the rain so do check ahead if it is important to you that you want to visit and take a dip.
Back on the road, we had a short lunch stop (excluded in the price of the tour) in a plantation – we were shown to a little hut with a hammock style table and chairs and shared some noodles plus a much needed ice cold soft drink.
Click here to read our top temples to visit in Siem Reap blog post
Kampong Phluk floating village
Our afternoon stop was to the floating village of Kampong Phluk – as this was like nothing we had ever seen before, this was one of our personal highlights of the tour. As rainy season had relented, we were able to drive along the sometimes flooded road to get a private boat to the floating village ($20 per person for the boat ride).
Once you arrive, you are allocated a local sailor and in our case, it was a 14 year old boy – although a bit of an initial shock seeing your boat launched and solely skippered by a school-boy, we were cruising up the river at speed in no time at all. After a few minutes of navigating the canals, you get your first glimpse of scattered stilted buildings such as the school and local municipal office.
You then turn a corner on the river and a brightly coloured metropolis of wooden buildings and boats awaits, with fishermen and women busily casting out nets or sewing baskets – it is fascinating to see from the water. We are also told by our tour-guide that the buildings are all painted bright colours (primarily blue) not for aesthetic reasons but to keep the flies and mosquitoes away at night as it seems to repel them.
Once through the village, we sailed past some crocodile farms and reached the open lake (Tonle Sap – 3000 square kilometres in dry season, increasing to 10,000 square kilometres in rainy season – the biggest in South East Asia) and bobbed on the waves, marvelling in awe at the sheer vastness of the lake with no discernible horizon in sight. We then looped back through the village, taking yet more pictures and watching the villagers go about their daily routines.
A quick note that we’d also heard from fellow travellers and online that the nearer floating village of Cong Kneas wasn’t as authentic and a bit of a tourist trap so we are glad we experienced Kampong Phluk instead.
As we returning to the hubris of downtown Siem Reap, we made a short stop and were presented with a gift of a personalised bracelet each, wishing us good luck for our travels ‘Good Luck, Neil’ – this was a nice and appreciated gesture.
How to book the Kulen Mountain and Kampong Phluk floating village day trip
We got really lucky with Mr Sunny and Mr Sochea as our tour guide and driver – we hadn’t done a personalised tour in Siem Reap before (just larger group trips) so if you have the time and budget, it is definitely worth considering a private tour. Asean Angkor Guide are currently (as at Dec 2018) number 1 on Tripadvisor and the tour we booked can be found here.
Siem Reap Accommodation
I visited Siem Reap twice in 2018 and stayed in 3 different hotels – all of which had excellent service and I would recommend if you want to stay in a great location (walking distance to Pub Street and the night markets).
Golden Temple Hotel / Golden Temple Villa Hotel / Royal Crown Hotel
These backpacker hostels are highly rated and in super locations:
Onederz Hostel / Lub D Hostel / One Stop Hostel Siem Reap @Pub Street
Here are some super nice places if you really want to treat yourself on your Siem Reap trip!
Angkor Palace Suite & Villa / Park Hyatt Siem Reap / Belmond La Résidence d’Angkor
Other South East Asia blog posts
- 3 must see temples in Angkor, Siem Reap
- Eating like a local with Siem Reap Food Tours
- A Thai cookery class ‘with a twist’ in Bangkok’s flower market
- A luxurious stay at the Avani Riverside hotel in Bangkok
- Exploring Bangkok at night by Tuk Tuk
If you are planning on travelling around Cambodia, check out this 3 weeks in Cambodia itinerary for some inspiration!
Disclosure: Our private tour to Kulen Mountain and Kampong Phluk with Asean Angkor Guide was complimentary but as always, opinions are all our own.
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