One of the largest districts in Siem Reap Province, Svay Leu is also the most sparsely populated as much of its land mass is taken up by the remote jungle plateau of Phnom Kulen. This also happens to be the biggest draw in the district, home to the ‘lost city’ of Mahendraparvata which hit the headlines around the world when it was revealed using LIDAR technology to peel back the layers of jungle and see beneath. The main attractions on Phnom Kulen include the River of a Thousand Lingas where hundreds of phallic symbols decorate the riverbed; a beautiful waterfall that featured in the film Tomb Raider; and the giant recling Buddha of Preah Ang Thom. Beyond these popular places lie the vestiges of Mahendraparvata and it is possible to take an adventurous motorbike ride to explore the pyramid temple of Prasat Rong Chen, the hermit retreat of Poeung Tbal, the stone guardian animals of Sra Damrei and the famous Bat Cave with its panoramic viewpoint. For those wanting to explore more extensively, it is also possible to experience an overnight homestay in Anlong Thom village and to organize trekking on the mountain, including a trek linking to the jungle temple of Beng Mealea on the plains below. Phnom Kulen is also famous for its organic fruit production and the harvesting traditional medicine ingredients from the forest.
The other major attraction in Svay Leu is Beng Mealea, a vast 12th century swallowed by the jungle. Nature has run riot here with vines and creepers slowly strangling the stones. Visitors can explore the huge complex via a wooden walkway. As well as the main temple, there are also several smaller temples nearby that see few visitors. To experience village life in Svay Leu, it is possible to stay overnight in a homestay in Beng Mealea. There is a nearby community forest which may offer some organized treks in the near future.
Area: 2007 sq km
Population Density: 20/sq km
District Capital: Svay Leu
Located in the heart of Anlong Thom village, this large traditional wooden house offers an immersive homestay experience for those wanting to overnight on Phnom Kulen and see more of the sacred mountain. Accommodation is simple but includes a shower and toilet. Meals are available, including breakfast, lunch and dinner. The hosts can also help to organize local treks and picnic lunches for those exploring the mountain.
There are several small homestays around Beng Mealea village, but this one, located on the eastern edge of the village has the most potential. The owner, Srey Mom, speaks some English and the family is very friendly and experience with different tour groups. Homestays are available in the main house and around the balcony of the house and meals are available (for both homestay guests and day trip visitors) downstairs. There are several activities available nearby including some small remote temples and a community forest.
Located about 4km east of Beng Mealea, this is a patch of old forest that has been preserved as a community forest. It may be possible to organize a community walk in the forest. Contact your homestay host for more details.
There are several restaurants in the Beng Mealea area which cater to tour groups and independent travellers that serve Khmer and Asian dishes. Beng Mealea Kitchen Restaurant is one of the largest in the area and can serve large groups who come here at lunchtime.
The holy mountain of Phnom Kulen is one of the most sacred places in Cambodia, considered the birthplace of the Khmer Empire and one of the earliest Angkor capitals. There are numerous cultural and natural sites on the mountain plateau, including remote temples, waterfalls, holy sites and local communities. Highlights include the ‘River of a Thousand Lingas’ where lots of Hindu fertility symbols and deities are carved into the riverbed; the reclining Buddha of Preah Ang Thom which was carved into a giant boulder in the 16th century; the vestiges of the lost city of Mahendraparvata, the earliest Angkor capital that includes the stone animal guardians of Srah Damrei, the pyramid temple of Rong Chen and the rock carvings of Poeung Tbal. It is also possible to arrange a homestay in the village of Anlong Thom as a base to explore the mountain. There are several local restaurants around the waterfall and Preah Ang Thom or local homestays can arrange meals or picnics for those exploring further into the sacred mountain’s heritage.