For a total change of atmosphere, we recommend a trip along the bumpy road leading north from Angkor for an hour and a half to the forested Phnom Kulen hills, a tract of steep-sided, table-top mountain where the Khmers founded the ancient city of Mahendrapura, forerunner of Angkor. It was here, in 804 AD, that Jayavarman II famously declared independence from Java, and initiated the cult of ‘Devaraja’, or the ‘God King’, ushering in the start of the Angkor era.
Scattered with enigmatic ruins, the sacred plateau is now protected as a national park. Among the many moss-covered archeological treasures lost in its dense jungles is the River of a Thousand Lingas at Kbal Spean, where the Khmers carved numerous phallic forms representing Shiva into the bedrock of a stream. The site is reached via a steep path through the forest – an invigorating, 30-minute trek followed by a paddle through gently flowing water.
The principal target for Cambodian daytrippers, however, is a gilded reclining Buddha, hewn from a giant boulder in the Preah Ang Thom temple. Pilgrims queue to be blessed by the resident monk who lives in a rock cave nearby. For most TransIndus clients, however, the highlight of this foray north from Angkor is often the visit to a spectacular waterfall in the jungle where you can take a refreshing dip, and then enjoy piping hot banana fritters afterwards from local vendors.