About 16 miles northeast of the main Angkorian ruins is Kbal Spean, a jungle trek into the Kulen Hills to an archeological site of river carvings leading to a sacred waterfall. We visited after touring Banteay Srei in the same area, also known as the Pink Lady Temple. Being a bit farther out of town, and costing more to get there, Banteay Srei and Kbal Spean are often paired together as a day trip. Visitors can also take a tour at the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity, which lies at the foot of the trail to Kbal Spean.
A BRIEF HISTORY
Tucked into the jungle, Kbal Spean is famous for its relief carvings made into the naturally formed sandstone of the riverbed and its banks. Carved into the rock by hermits between the 11th and 12th centuries under the reign of King Suryavarman I, and King Udayadityavarman II, this site is also known as the ‘valley of 1000 lingas,’ and the ‘river of a thousand lingas,’ for the many lingas carved there. Lingas are the phallic symbol representing the Hindu god Shiva. The Siem Reap River, which flows over the sacred lingas and into Angkor, was believed to bless the city.
Yonis representing the Hindu goddess Shakti in the feminine symbol of fertility and genitalia are also represented. Many other Hindu gods are also featured in the carvings, such as Vishnu, Brahma, Lakshmi, Rama and Hanuman.
After the monsoon season when the water level begins to drop, the carvings are visible in a 150-meter section of the river in the middle of which is a naturally formed sandstone bridge. They stretch to a waterfall where visitors can bathe and be blessed. The site was ‘discovered’ by westerners in 1969, but exploration was halted by the Cambodian civil war. The site reopened for safe visits beginning in 1989.
WHAT IT’S LIKE TO VISIT
We found ourselves at the trailhead to Kbal Spean after a 20-minute tuk tuk ride from Banteay Srei and eagerly headed in. We walked leisurely through the jungle, taking about an hour to reach the falls, stopping now and again to watch a troops of ants, and linger in a grove of tall trees where monkeys shrouded by leaf cover high above ate fruit and spit pits down to the ground. We trekked barefoot on the soft red earth over roots and rocks, a path tread for centuries, watching a rainbow of butterflies float by in singles and pairs while listening to monkeys hoot and tropical birds call until we reached the lingas at the rock bridge. Two dogs – a three-legged puppy and its mother – greeted us.
We were lucky that it had rained heavily the night before, uncommon for March leading up to the rainy season, making the falls full and cleansing, and carrying the rush through the forest. Hot and sticky from a jungle hike in jeans, it was both exhilarating and joyous to cleanse beneath the clean and powerful falls that had been blessed by the age-old lingas. Vines draped over the falls trickling droplets of water. It truly felt like a hidden oasis.
Good to Know: Throughout our time at Angkor Wat we quickly discovered that pretty much anyone who offers to take your photo for you expects to be paid in return. At Kbal Spean, a park staff member accompanied by a young boy followed us the whole way from the lingas to the waterfall continually offering to take our picture, and encouraging us to take off our clothes and get into the waterfall. Though we repeatedly declined, the ranger hung around for quite a while. It was a bit uncomfortable to feel like we were being watched, but he eventually left allowing us some peaceful moments alone at the falls.
ENJOY YOUR VISIT!
Kbal Spean is a unique site at Angkor Wat Archeological Park taking visitors out of the city to enjoy the Cambodian countryside and its abundant nature. After several stiflingly hot days of touring the park’s busy temples, it was wonderful to get away from the crowds and play in the falls!