Phnom Kulen


Phnom Kulen: Archeological Site/Ancient Site of Mahendraparvata is part of the Tentative list of Cambodia in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List. It is a proposed extension of Angkor WHS.

Ancient Mahendraparvata was a large Khmer settlement and religious complex in the Phnom Kulen mountain range. It dates from the 8th-9th century. The site was also a sandstone quarry for Angkor. The extent of the city was only uncovered in 2012 with the aid of the scanning technology LIDAR.

Map of Phnom Kulen

Load map

The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.

Community Reviews

Write a review


Philippines - 27-Jun-23 -

Phnom Kulen (T) by GabLabCebu

Phnom Kulen was never on my plans for my trip to Cambodia in January 2023. All that I'd known about it was that there was a mini-version of Kbal Spean, a waterfall, and a reclining Buddha; I had no idea that it was also the site of the former capital of the Khmer or that there are a lot of remains of that time left behind. Instead, I'd set my eyes on Kbal Spean itself. Our driver-guide, on the other hand, didn't like the idea as much and recommended Phnom Kulen instead, and because I was traveling with my aunt who was having foot and knee problems, I caved and followed his suggestion. I'm actually quite glad I did, though I hope I'll see Kbal Spean one day, perhaps with better hiking company. Phnom Kulen ended up taking the whole morning into early afternoon (which is a must, as the national park closes entry at around noon) and a fairly hefty $20 entrance fee per foreign head, which must be bought at a certain hotel in Siem Reap (just ask any Angkor guide you have). After driving for about an hour towards and into the park, we arrived at the parking lot, and I was in for an adventure I'd never prepared for.

Our driver-guide negotiated with a motorcycle rider at the parking lot, who was offering an off-road tour to four sites in the jungle, and they reached a deal that was then recommended to me. I ended up being the only one in my family who took up the offer, so off we zipped into the forest alone. It was absolutely the wildest ride of my life, and I genuinely had a hard time not losing my grip and falling off the motorcycle as it ran through bare rough rocks, muddy gravelly passageways, bumpy mountainsides, and hairpin curves; the constant overgrowth slapping into our faces wasn't any help either, and we also crossed the occasional stream and monstrous puddle. The first stop was a cave of bats... based on my driver's broken English, I guess they were subjects of worship in some way? The cave was quite dark, the ceiling low, and the ambiance quite dismal, though it was cool to come across a stupa in the middle of it. Fortunately, this was the low point on this tour, and Phnom Kulen was about to start impressing me. The next stop was the (apparently) famous Srah Damrei, the (life-size? maybe even larger) statues of the elephant and lions. This was a site unlike anything else in Cambodia, and I'd say it and Kbal Spean are probably the highlights for a Phnom Kulen visit. Either way, make sure your motorcycle tour includes this site. Next up was Damrei Krab Temple, which is covered very well by Frederik before me; this was also quite a worthwhile stop quite distinct from any of the younger temples in Angkor. Lastly, we went to Peung Ey Sey, checking off the heavily ruined Prasat O Toub Temple on the hike to it. This is a site to appreciate the great trees and the babbling brooks of the mountain, with some rock carvings all around including what seems to be an altar in a boulder standing in the middle of the stream. Once again, this was a unique site, though with less impressive historic remains. The motorcycle soon came to a long stretch of downhill road, which had me keeping my hands on my cap to ensure it wouldnt fly away. Afterwards, the tour concluded at Preah Ang Thom, which is the modern temple with the reclining Buddha, about 5-10 minutes by foot from the parking lot. Afterwards, I met with my family, and our driver-guide took us to the last two sites along the main park road. First was the carved lingam riverbed. This was like the pictures I see of Kbal Spean but more monotonous; the carvings take up flat parts of the riverbed and solely consist of lingams. At least this was more elderly-friendly, and there was a really cool bubbling spring pool nearby. Our final site was the waterfall, which actually has an upper and lower level for swimming and a ruined temple crowning it. It was pretty stunning, well worth the steep hike to get there, and the waters were oh so tempting.

In conclusion, I think there's a lot more to Ancient Mahendraparvata than meets the eye. It seems to be a primary target of archaeological excavation and exploration, and many hidden gems could still possibly come to light from this vast city and its mountain. As a Pre-Angkorian capital of the Khmer, I think it's an even more significant site than, say, Koh Ker or Preah Vihear, which I believe are / would be very worthy World Heritage Sites in their own right. Additionally, sites like Srah Damrei and the lingam riverbeds are completely unique sites in the world of Khmer ruins. It's a bit sad to me that Phnom Kulen is only being pushed as an extension to Angkor when it's clearly so much more than that. As its own site, I'd rank it at 3 to 3.5 stars, an above average World Heritage Site on the global stage, and a pleasant surprise to round out my trip to Cambodia.

Frederik Dawson

Netherlands - 07-Feb-23 -

Phnom Kulen (T) by Frederik Dawson

One of the things I got from my two weeks trip to explore pre-Angkorian and Dvaravati arts with ICOMOS international experts in Cambodia and Thailand is the problem of drafting nomination dossier of Cambodia on other Angkorian sites. The problem of how to distinguish between those nominations with Angkor as the listed Angkor already almost covered all aspects of the Pre-Angkorian and Angkorian cultures. Some ICOMOS scholars even opinioned that if original nomination of Angkor exclude Rolous Group which is a Pre-Angkorian site, the works will be more easier for the nomination of Phnom Kulen and other lesser Pre-Angkorian sites to be World Heritage! And right now, this site is being proposed as an extension of Angkor to solve the unsolved problem.

Since the trip only went to the unknown lessor temples on Phnom Kulen, not Kbal Spean, the most famous historical site, initially I thought this is just “fill the gap” day with minor sites, but the visit turned out to be the most memorable one and a hot debate among ICOMOS scholars. After Sambor Prei Kuk, the power center of Khmer Empire moved to the area of Siem Reap, but before the ancient Khmer decided to settle around Angkor Wat, they settled on the small plateau top of Phnom Kulen Mountain and named the city “Mahendraparvata” as the center of the super large Khmer cultural landscape that covered whole northern Cambodia plain. Our mini van took us to the top of Phnom Kulen, the winding road showed us the natural fortifications of once the grand city especially the big rock channel that acted like city gate. We passed the 1000 lingas river, a small version of Kbal Spean, since the site is Angkorian Period, all ICOMOS scholars did not care to visit. We reached Preah Kral Pagoda Temple, a modern temple, to meet up to 50 motorcycles readied to bring us to visit Mahendraparvata. Our local guide told us that the dirt road to temples is not bad, but when my driver turn the motorcycle into the jungle with no road, I knew that today will be a special day! After many turns in the rocky jungle, my driver finally found the small road and drove thru beautiful, lush green valleys of tree where my head and arms bumped with, muddy ponds that caused my shoes and lower part of my shirt to be fashionably dirty. Along the way I saw many ruins of temple in the jungle still waiting to be cleaned and excavated. With many directions confusing for 40 minutes, we finally reached Srah Damrei, the platform of elephant and lion statues, it was an impressive sight to see such beautiful stone animals in the middle of jungle. Then we went to Rong Chan Temple, the oldest temple, and the center of Mahendraparvata. The temple guardians were quite shocked to see horde of 50 motorcycles at the same time. We saw large laterite platform which historians told us where the city foundation ceremony happened. After that we continued the jungle journey to Damrei Krab Temple. The temple was built with unique mix of Khmer and Cham art causing hot debates among our visited scholars for its origin. Some believed that the temple predated Mahendraparvata, some believed that it was a missing link of Cham influenced in early Angkorian arts that not only Sambor Prei Kuk that had major role on art development, but Cham from My Son also. To be honest for casual spectators like me, I did not know the differences and really wanted to go back to hotel to clean myself after whole day adventure!   

At dinner, our experts told me that since Mahendraparvata and Angkor’s Rolous group were quite closed in historical timeline of Pre-Angkorian settlements. With more excavations, historian discovered that many pre-Angkorian temples in Phnom Kulen and Rolous had been used and renovated in later Angkor periods resulting mix of various periods of art in many temples. Despite unique characteristic and historical value, at present Cambodia still prefers to consider Phnom Kulen as an extension of Angkor for convenient. In my opinion, it is quite a shame for such great site to be put under shadow of Angkor, maybe future archaeological discoveries in Phnom Kulen will provide a better opportunity for Mahendraparvata to shine by itself.      

Ian Cade

UK - 16-Nov-10 -

Phnom Kulen (T) by Ian Cade

I visited the site of Kbal Spean, or the River of 1,000 Lingas which is included in this batch of monuments. It was a really rewarding place to visit as one of the outlying Angkorian monuments and made a great morning trip when combined with the magnificent Banteay Srei temple.

Here the river bed is carved with multiple representations of lingas and yonis as well as several other carvings on the river banks. These were used to symbolically purify the water flowing into the central temple complex of Angkor. It is a pretty impressive spectacle and the carvings continue for about 100m downstream of the first batch at the top of a waterfall.

It takes a little while to get out to the site from Siam Reap, and once at the site there is a 1,5km walk from the car park. It is a pretty nice walk, although some bits are a little tough as you clamber over rocks.

I guess if this was ever added to the list it would be as an extension to the WHS of Angkor, however if any site on the world heritage list deserves to be inscribed twice it is Angkor. So I would fully support it being added separately.

[Site 7 Experience 7]

Full Name
Phnom Kulen: Archeological Site/Ancient Site of Mahendraparvata
Extension of
Angkor WHS
Archaeological site - South (East) Asian
2020 Revision

Renomination of Site des Kulen (1992)

2020 Added to Tentative List

The site has 1 locations

Phnom Kulen (T)
WHS 1997-2024