The first day of the circuit proposes the visit to Phnom Kulen hills (40 kilometers north-east of Angkor) where one of the capital cities of King Jayavarman II (early 9th century) was located. Known as Mahendraparvata, the site was probably chosen for conducting some Brahmanical rituals for the sovereignty of the kingdom. On this mountain, the king declared himself Emperor or King of the Universe (cakravartin) and conducted a Brahmanical ceremony which was followed by many Khmer kings later on. You will also see some rock carvings in later centuries; this proves that the Phnom Kulen remained a religious place even though the capital was moved to another place.
The site of the Royal Palace may be the place where the king may stay for a period of time. It is a small hill under which, through archaeological excavations, were found some remains of a brick foundation with many holes, tiles fragments and a drainage system in laterite. The holes in the foundation and the tiles suggest that there may be some wooden structure with tile roof.
Next, you will take a walk to visit Prasat Neak Ta. Like many temples under the reign of King Jayavarman II, the temple was built of brick. The temples affiliated to the king’s reign bear some features of the transition period from the Pre-Angkorian period to Angkorian period.
You can also visit Thnorl Mrech where you will be able to see ceramics.
Prasat Damrei Krap is much better preserved than Prasat Neak Ta. The temple has three towers in brick (on north-south axis), a laterite enclosure wall and a brick gate (gopura). Its architecture is probably a mixture of neighboring arts (Campa and Java) and invention of local people. Fine carved colonettes and pediments, as well as other architectural decorations on the temple’s wall are fascinating.
The river of thousand lingas, the carvings on natural rocks and the rock-carved Buddha are some testimonies of the occupation of the site after the king’s reign. While visiting the magnificent rows of thousand lingas on the bed of the Siem Reap River, several rock carvings of Vishnu lying on the snake Ananta with Lakshmi holding the god’s legs as well as four-armed Brahma, you can enjoy bathing in the river and waterfall.
The visit on the Phnom Kulen hills will finish with the impressive monolithic reclining Buddha statue called Preah Ang Thom.