Lingas on Riverberd, Kbal Spean, CambodiaTwo of our favorite adventures are hiking and exploring ancient sites. We got a dose of both when we explored Cambodia’s Kbal Spean, a unique archeological site of Angkorian era.  Although the hike was short, the site was astonishing.

Kbal Spean is a river in the jungle of Kulen Hills northeast of the main Angkor area. Its riverbeds and surrounding rocks are sculpted with myriad of Hindu symbolisms dating back from the 11th  century.

Hike to Kbal Spean, CambodiaTo get to the site entails a 2 kms of uphill hike (about 45 minutes) on a beautiful, rustic trail passing through boulders and woods.

The site was not discovered until 1968 when a hermit brought it to the attention of a French archeologist who was working in a nearby ruin. Shortly after, the site fell to the hands of the guerillas during the bloody Khmer Rouge rule and was not opened to the public until 1998.


Lingams on Riverbed, Kbal Spean, CambodiaEtched on the riverbed rocks are fields of lingas, the holy phallic symbols representing the supreme essence of the Hindu god Shiva,  giving it a name ” The River of Thousand Lingas.”


Lingas in Kbal Spean, CambodiaInscriptions found on the site revealed that the river carvings were commissioned by Khmer kings. The lingas and other divine carvings were intended to sanctify the water as it made its way downstream to the Angkor temples and settlements.


Lingams, Kbal Spean, CambodiaSome lingas come in shape of bullets and some appear like buttons arranged in perfect grid.


Yoni and Lingams, Kbal Spean, CambodiaSome lingas are carved around and inside a yoni, a symbol for female organ.  Lingas and yonis are also believed to fertilize the water that flows over them.


Shiva and Uma riding a Bull, Kbal Spean, CambodiaAside from lingas, other astonishing features on the site are the carvings representing Hindu Gods and deities. Depicted in this carving is God Shiva riding on a bull with his consort Uma.


-Reclining Vishnu, Kbal Spean, CambodiaA carving depicting reclining Vishnu.


Reclining Vishnu, Kbal Spean, CambodiaAnother image of reclining Vishnu, We saw at least three of them.


Yoni and Lingams, Kbal Spean, CambodiaCarvings of lotus flowers.


10-Brahman with four heads, Kbal Spean, CambodiaAn image of a four-faced god Brahma sitting on a lotus.


Natural Swing, Kbal Spean, Cambodia I found a perfect spot to rest next to the river – a natural swing!

Just when we thought we had seen all the carvings at this point, a local boy who was hanging around the site told us that there were more and directed us on a trail uphill from the river.

Carvings in Kbal Spean, Cambodia

 We saw some small figures of animals and deities sculptured high on big rocks.


14-Kbal Spean, CambodiaThe boy also showed us more carving of deities, animals and lingas. We wouldn’t have possibly found them on our own as they were further uphill from the river and there were no mention of them in our guidebooks.


Waterfall, Kbal Spean, CambodiaA good treat downstream was a beautiful and refreshing waterfall!  It was a perfect spot to cool off before me made our way down the trail.

Check out our other Angkor Highlights:
1.  Angkor Wat.            2.  Bayon Temple
 3,  Ta Prohm                 4.  Banteay Srei
 5.  Beng Mealea             6.  Koh Ker


Travel Notes:
  • Kbal Spean is located 50 kms northeast of Siem Reap and a direct trip by tuk-tuk takes about an hour. A visit to Kban Spean can be combined with a visit to the temple of Banteay Srei, which is 15 kms directly south of the road.
  • An Angkor Pass is required for entry to Kbal Spean. For more info about Angkor Pass, please go here.
  • The last entry on the trail is at 3:30 pm.
  • Best time to visit the site is from May to December when the river and the waterfall have a good flow.
  • Suggested accommodation: We stayed at Shinta Mani, a beautiful and contemporary boutique hotel and we highly recommend. We call it a hotel with a heart as it donates part of your nightly rate to help local communities. It has a non-profit component that trains locals in hospitality business as well as contributes in health programs.


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Taking you on our journey one photo - and footstep - at a time.

42 responses to “Kbal Spean: The River of Thousand Lingas

    • Traveling Solemates

      Hi Sarah, it was really a unique and magical place! Glad you enjoyed it:)

  1. Leigh

    What a fantastic spot – and a new one for me. I can’t even imagine the time or effort or manpower required to do all those carvings. I agree when you say the word astonishing.
    What a treat to have a waterfall because my guess is that it’s pretty darned hot and humid.
    Leigh recently posted..An Easy Hike in Lighthouse Park in West VancouverMy Profile

    • Leigh, we were standing filled with awe and wonder on how those carvings were made. We were thinking, “Didt they have to drain the river to do all this?” We went end of November and the heat and humidity wasn’t too bad.

  2. Carmel

    What strikes me first about all these shots are the beautiful light. It’s almost golden. What a lovely way to spend a day. I’ll have to put this on a list for Cambodia. I think we could spend our entire year traveling just in SE Asia!
    Carmel recently posted..FINDING MY VOICEMy Profile

    • Hi Carmel, we were actually there on mid-day when the light was supposed to be harsh but the canopy of leaves filtered the light well and gave it a lovely hue. You will love Cambodia’s sights and its people. I can’t wait for you to get there.

  3. Carving these lingas must have been difficult with the river constantly flowing over the work area. You are fortunate to have that local boy show you a few of the hidden treasures. This looks like a trek that’s a good mix of nature and archeology.
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted..Hawaii is DangerousMy Profile

    • Hi Michelle, that was exactly our thoughts. We were thinking that it probably took many years to make bec. they probably waited for the season when the water level was low. Yes, we feel lucky to have that boy show us around. It also happened to us in one of the temples. We’re very thankful to our travel gods:)

  4. Sophie

    Ooh, I’ve never heard of Kbal Spean and it looks absolutely fascinating. Enjoying your Cambodia posts.

    • Hi Bama, Banteay Srei and Kbal Spean are really worth a visit. I didn’t get a chance to visit Kbal Spean the first time I visited Cambodia 8 years ago and I regretted it. Glad I was able to do so during the recent trip. It is truly fascinating. I hope you get to return sometime soon.

  5. Thanks so much for this post. As you probably know we will be in Cambodia in November. I have taken note of this – can’t wait to get there. More Cambodia posts please :)
    budget jan recently posted..Magnetic Island – See you later NellyMy Profile

    • Hi Jan, our pleasure! Glad we’re able to give you an idea for your forthcoming trip. We have two more Angkor highlight posts :)

  6. Marcia

    This is fascinating! I wonder how long it took to make the carvings, how many carvers there were, etc. It’s such an ingenious idea, hope no lives were lost in the making.
    Thanks for this post. Cambodia’s on my list of places to visit, so I’ll make sure to see this when I do go. The world is indeed a marvelous place!
    Marcia recently posted..A Walking Tour of Falmouth Jamaica, Part IIMy Profile

    • Hi Marcia, we were wondering the same thing. It’s amazing what the ancient Khmer kings would create to obtain blessings from their gods.
      I’m sure you will love Cambodia and its people. I hope you get to go soon.

    • Hi Agness, aren’t those carvings amazing? It really is a good place to explore and the waterfall is a good place to hang around.

    • Hi Jill, it’s an interesting place indeed. I hope you make it there when you return to Cambodia. It is worth a visit.

    • Hi Debbie, what’s amazing about ancient arts is not only their beauty but their endurance to withstand time. I’m wondering if our modent arts have this endurance to last for many centuries.

  7. What an incredibly beautiful place! The carvings are just stunning – it always amazes me that artwork like this can survive for so many centuries. I know very little about Cambodia but your posts are inspiring me to want to visit.
    Lisa Goodmurphy recently posted..The Man With Two Hats – A Monument to PeaceMy Profile

    • Hi Lisa, it really is amazing to think how many centuries and tons of water they had withstood. Cambodia is an incredible country with really wonderful people. I hope you get to visit it someday.

  8. Finding these must be like a treasure hunt. This was so fascinating especially since I’ve never heard of it. Those lingas and carvings are just incredible works of art. I can’t even begin to imagine how they carved them under those conditions. Loving your Cambodia posts!
    Mary {The World Is A Book} recently posted..5 Free Things to do in Ketchikan Alaska with KidsMy Profile

    • Hi Mary,
      Yes, they’re really an incredible work of art, which required not only carving skill but also swimming skill we guess:) It’s really amazing seeing them in person. And we really enjoyed its surrounding – the lush jungle and the waterfall.

  9. Dennis

    Once again, you discovered something off the main Angkor Wat itinerary! Considering this was once under the control of the Khmer Rouge, was there any mention about unexploded mines within or around the area?

    • Traveling Solemates

      Hi Dennis, like all Angkor sites this one was once laden with mines. The site itself is cleared of mines but people are still advised to stay on the well-treaded path. We visited another off-the-beaten path temple complex (Koh Ker) where majority of the temples are still inaccessible due to landmines. We’ll post that one shortly.

  10. Kira S.

    Hi guys, I’m enjoying your Cambodian adventures. This places looks amazing. I can’t imagine the work entailed in carving the sculptures in the river. It must be a massive undertaking. It’s incredible to what extent the ancient people would go through to obtain spiritual merits.

    • Traveling Solemates

      Hi Kirs, we’re so glad you’re enjoying the posts. You’re right, the faith of those ancient people could build mountains.

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