Phnom Tbeng Waterfall

How high is Phnom Tbeng? 600 meters as it states in Wikipedia or about 500 meters as we found when we climbed the 416 meters to the top of the steps and over the forest ridge to the river 5 kilometers away.

Soksan was comatose in the back of the van, which was preferable to him throwing up lunch as he’d forgotten to take car-sick pills. I annoyed Saray in the front with acerbic comments such as, ‘do you know what that pedal under your right foot is for,’ as we seemed to inch forward.

Buddhist Sage at the bottom of the mountain

The new airport dominates the land to the East of Siem Reap. A massive road that could be the runway, runs straight into what will be a congested NR6 from Phnom Penh. It has facilitated the clearing of a diverse flora into a nutrient hungry monoculture of casava, monochrome and uniform as it stretches into the distance. A line of kroyuns, a cross between a buffalo plough and a tractor and much less attractive, take the remnants of native trees to the brick factory kilns. If we weren’t under some very persistent monsoons Siem Reap would be a desert.

Preah Vihear Province from the top of the steps at Phnom Tbeng

Doung AKA Coconut, Soksan and Saray at the top of the mountain

Our VIP room was at the top of the hill where the forest met the resort. A sort of blackout igloo made from superhot corrugated aluminum sheets that gave the overworked aircon no chance. The restaurant was a kilometer from the kitchen so the evening’s entertainment was watching the staff balancing our dinner on motorbikes as it was eventually bought to the table.

The 460 meter steps up Tbeng

Mr Doung our guide, loosely known as coconut – a rough translation, didn’t turn up to guide us because his wife hadn’t told him. ‘Who did you speak to Saray?’ His wife.

A forest stream

Not really a pagoda but a holy place where a concrete sage sits on a rock at the start of the steps. You can’t see the mountain now because it’s so thickly clad in vegetation such that if there weren’t any steps Phnom Tbeng would be impenetrable. No doubt birds, butterflies and all manner of biting and stinging things to observe but its head down raising one leg after another in a single-minded focus to get up the hill. And we were amidst the morning rush hour as Khmer tourists were also climbing the mountain to see the falls. 

Nick and Saray at the overhang

Coconut, Saray and Soksan sprang up the steps like they were on an elevator then took a turn to the right on a small path that headed deep into the forest. Its so dense you can’t see the birds that ring around you. Lime green crickets that like the sweat on your backpack. Long-tailed Macaques a few trees distant. A wild pig in the undergrowth, maybe there are leopards. And a snake curled round a tree, watching us as we passed. 

Soksan and Saray behind the curtain

Each stream a Gardeners Question Time delight of exotic ferns, mosses and delicate flowers. Orchidae on the rocks and tangled lianas where the canopy rises.Coconut took us to a cleft in the rock, where we clambered down under a cavernous overhang curtained by a sheet of water as a stream ran over. The main river was a short distance. We emerged where it flowed over a spectacular waterfall made all the more special as there was no litter. Of course pictures of Soksan populated most of the photos but there are a few of me looking old and haggard.

Below the Falls during rainy season

The river runs deeps, cool and clear before it reaches the falls. Great for swimming and fish. Soksan and Saray frolicked in a homoerotic way.

Phnom Tbeng River upstream of the Falls

Back at base our igloo and the dinner circus act didn’t appeal so we headed into the bustling metropolis of T’beng that isn’t but managed to find a lady with some tables and chairs, who gave us food and beer.

Footnote; The next morning we spent a considerable amount of time searching for an omelet that eventually met with success and a temple that didn’t, but …..

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