During my last visit in 2010 I hadn’t even heard anything about Kbal Spean, but preparing for my second trip to Cambodia I was looking for some such excitement like what the Beng Mealea temple – the Indiana-Jones-jungle-temple – had given me last time.
Kbal Spean is set deep in the jungle 50 kilometers northeast of Angkor. It took for us for about 50 minutes to go there by tuk-tuk. There is no separate ticket, you can use your Angkor Park ticket to enter.
It wouldn’t be so difficult to hike it, it is just 1500 meters, but it goes uphill and there are a lot of obstacles like stones and roots on the ground and the humidity is really high, that is why it was tiring. It was a big challenge for my mother (who is over 70) and for me too but it is not a Mount Everest, so I guess everyone, who doesn’t have serious medical problems can do it.
Some facts and numbers: Visiting this site is not without danger at all (not talking about possible animals like scorpio, spider, snake…etc) I refer here to the landmines. The archaeological site is in the Kulen mountains, in a rural area. I read on the internet that it is still a major problem to have many landmines especially in rural areas. Since the 1970s there were about 3 million landmines demined but still, after 40 years, almost every day happens a tragedy. More than 20.000 deaths and some 40,000 amputees, which is one of the highest rates in the world. Experts estimate that Cambodia will need another 10 to 20 years to clear the mines.
Some history as well: The Kulen Mountain was important in the ancient times, legend says the first pyramid temple was built here. This was the last resort the Khmer Rouge had in the 1970s. One of the most cruel dictators in the World, Pol Pot, the leader, was really eager to kill everyone especially his own people. Back then intellectuals, minorities and actually all were targets, who the Khmer Rouge didn’t like enough. Estimates as to how many people were killed by the Khmer Rouge regime range from approximately 1 to 3 million; a quarter of the population. Terrible…
So then back to the jungle trekking. The road to the carvings is exciting enough, you can take plenty of photos of the roots, trees, the jungle itself. What you get at the end is worth the walk, known as the “Valley of a 1000 Lingas”, hundreds of lingas are carved into the rock of the river. Linga is a symbol of fertility.
Historians say the carvings were done about 1000 years ago. The khmer kings thought the prosperity and success of their reign was based on the irrigation cultivation. That is why linga (male) and yoni (female) motifs were carved in the riverbed, because they believed the water flowing through them will produce heavy crops.
The path splits to the waterfall or the river carvings. First we went to the riverbed, where we found the carvings and after that we went to the waterfall to refresh ourselves. The way down to the waterfall is a bit difficult on the steep steps, but we could do it.
Tropical butterflies flying around, the refreshing water, the amazing decorations in the river were just magnificent.
Going back was maybe easier we went mostly downhill, but it took some time – altogether for about 3 hours – to do this tour. You can combine the Kbal Spean with Bentleay Srei like we did, they are not so far from each other.