O f all of Cambodia's historic cultural sites, few are as significant or sacred as
Siem Reap's Phnom Kulen.
It was here that King Jayavarman II crowned himself as a reincarnation of the Hindu
god Shiva in the 9th Century, entrenching the concept of the god-king, or devaraja.
The King's spirit was said to reside on the mountain-top, from which he could communicate
with the gods. Subsequent kings followed Jayavarman's lead, crowning themselves as
god-kings on a series of other mountains. The hills around Kulen also provided much
of the sand-stone used to build many of the Angkor temples.
Today, Kulen boasts a huge reclining Buddha - supposedly 900 years old, but with
a few facelifts along the way - a magnificent waterfall and the River of a Thousand
Lingas, bearing remarkably well-conserved ancient lingas carved deeply into the riverbed.
Until early 1995, Kulen, about 30km northeast of Angkor, was off-limits to visitors
as it was under Khmer Rouge control. The area's recapture from the guerrillas by
the government prompted a program of repairs to roads, tracks and temples around
the mountain, completed several months ago. Hundreds of Khmers again flocked to the
sacred mountain, accessible by road from Siem Reap town and a two-hour walk to the
summit, to pay homage.
But just as Phnom Kulen was being opened up to outside eyes for the first time in
years, the recent fighting in Siem Reap province has again made the area's security
situation uncertain. For now, at least, tourists are advised to be content with photographs
of the mountain gem, rather than visiting the real thing.