It was at PHNOM KULEN, then known as Mahendrapura, that Jayavarman II had himself consecrated supreme ruler in 802 (a date that is regarded as marking the start of the Angkorian period), thereby instigating the cult of the devaraja (see The empire in the ascendant). Although ancient temples are scattered here and elsewhere in the Kulen Mountains, none of these can be visited due to the lack of roads and the danger of land mines. Instead, the main reason to visit Phnom Kulen, 50km north of Siem Reap, is to gawp at the massive reclining Buddha carved out of a huge rock in the sixteenth century – and once you’re here you may find yourself very taken with the piety of the Buddhist devotees who come to worship at a chain of shrines. Unfortnately, the Angkor pass isn’t valid at Phnom Kulen, and the high entrance charge coupled with the cost of getting here keeps all but the most dedicated explorers from visiting. Note too that the area was heavily mined by the Khmer Rouge and it has yet to be fully cleared. Don’t wander off to locations other than those described here unless you have an experienced local guide.

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