Kbal Spean – Siem Reap, Cambodia - Atlas Obscura
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Siem Reap, Cambodia

Kbal Spean

This Cambodian riverbed is covered in ancient fertility symbols both above and below the waters. 

Tucked away in the jungles of Angkor, Cambodia is a small river that runs over a series of elaborate carvings that have been etched both along the shore line and into the very stone of the riverbed itself.

Created some time around the 11th and 12th century, the carvings at in the Kbal Spean River look like something right out of an Indiana Jones production diary. The designs range from fields of low circles that almost look like holy cobble stones to ornate images of Hindu deities carved in relief on the rocks. Not all of the carvings seem to have originated in the same era, having been added to down the millennia, but today, they all look like they are of a piece.

The site is also known as the “Valley of a 1,000 Lingas.” This common name is in reference to the low carved circles that actually meant to be phallic symbols of godly power, called “lingas.” So while they might look like a series of cobbles, the designs visible just under the flowing waters are, in a way, actually a whole bunch of penises. In contrast there are also a number (though not so many) of designs symbolizing the yoni, a representation of the vagina, also as a source of godly power. 

Even with all of the implied fertility forever carved into the river rock, the site looks not unlike something that would have come out of a Hollywood storyboard, all fearsome gods and cryptic symbols, barely hidden beneath the jungle undergrowth. Whether you are visiting for a sense of adventure, archaeology, or simple history, the Kbal Spean carvings won’t let you down.  

Know Before You Go

31 miles (50 kilometers) northeast of Siem Reap. From the parking lot it's a beautiful mile walk in to the stretch with the carvings.

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