Discovering Ancient Treasures through Ecotourism at Phnom Kulen

Phnom Kulen National Park is more than just a picturesque landscape; it’s a time capsule of Cambodia’s ancient cultural legacy. Perched atop this natural marvel is the Damrei Krap temple, a silent sentinel to the region’s historical richness, dating back to the 9th century.

Over 1,200 years ago, King Jayavarman II ascended Phnom Kulen, declaring himself “Chakravartin” (King of Kings) and heralding the birth of the formidable Khmer Empire. This sacred mountain, known as the “Mountain of the Great Indra,” witnessed the dawn of an empire that flourished for over six centuries.

Though the era of Angkor, Cambodia’s capital, ended in 1431, the city remains a symbol of national pride, embodying the country’s identity, civilization, and prestige.

Today, Phnom Kulen isn’t just a geographic feature; it’s a vital part of the Jayavarman-Norodom Phnom Kulen National Park. Managed by the Ministry of Environment, this sprawling park spans 62,883 hectares across five districts, ensuring the preservation of this natural treasure for future generations.

In 2020, Phnom Kulen National Park earned a coveted spot on UNESCO’s Tentative Lists for Cultural Heritage, recognizing its historical significance and potential as a future World Heritage Site.

Beyond its renowned attractions like the “Valley of a Thousand Lingas” and enchanting waterfalls, Phnom Kulen boasts a plethora of cultural and ecotourism sites waiting to be explored.

Meticulously curated by the Ministry of Environment, a detailed map guides visitors through this tapestry of cultural heritage and natural wonders, highlighting roads and key sites for an immersive experience.

In 2014, the Ministry identified 155 cultural heritage sites within the park, including ancient temples, hills, and archaeological sites. Notable among these is “Mahendraparvata,” dating back to the 8th and 9th centuries, nestled amidst the forested peaks of Phnom Kulen.

Around 40 brick temples, including O Paong, Neak Ta, and Kting Slap, reflect the architectural grandeur of King Jayavarman II’s reign. Other temples, such as Krahorm and Ta Dong, offer glimpses into Cambodia’s rich historical tapestry.

Explorers are encouraged to delve into ancient caves like Komnou and Eysei, each with its own story to tell. Adorned with prehistoric paintings, these caves provide a window into ancient human artistry and culture.

Managed by local communities, designated camping areas allow visitors to immerse themselves in nature while contributing to conservation efforts. Additionally, the Sok An Phnom Kulen Orchid Research and Conservation Centre offers insights into local livelihoods and biodiversity.

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Manet, Phnom Kulen is undergoing transformation into an eco-tourism hub. Development initiatives include enhancing infrastructure, establishing ranger stations, and promoting green tourism to benefit both visitors and local communities.

The Ministry of Environment’s commitment to protecting Phnom Kulen’s natural and cultural heritage ensures that future generations can continue to explore and appreciate this ancient treasure trove.

Tom Starkey
Author: Tom Starkey

Tom Starkey is an International Development graduate from Sussex University with 12-years of experience across 4 continents, Tom's goal is that he wants to showcase his love for Cambodia, where he lives, works and now happily calls home.

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