Many travelers coming to Battambang have heard of the famous bat colony living in the caves at Phnom Sampov, but do you know the folklore surrounding this mountain?
Every day at dusk millions of bats take to the skies from the caves of Phnom Sampov on their hunt for food. It's a truly awe inspiring experience but Phnom Sampov has so much more to offer. Aside from being a mountain covered with temples, caves and statues to explore with an awe-inspiring view at the top, it also has significance in Cambodian folklore as an important site in the creation of the country.
Our guide, Mony Pich, shares the Legend of Phnom Sampov and the Crocodile Lady.
"There is a kingdom near Dongrek mountain, which is now the Khmer-Thai border. The king and queen of this kingdom have only one son who when he was 16 years old, was sent to learn with a hermit in a nearby forest. His name was Reach Thkol.
The hermit taught him the rules and practices of the school - one of which was that he was not allowed to visit the forest behind the hermit's hut, which of course sparked his curiosity. One day when the hermit was away, he decided to go there and met a beautiful lady, named Sovan Macha. She had a pet talking crocodile, named Athun. The Reach Thkol and Sovan Macha continued seeing each other as often as they could until the prince finished his studies with the hermit and had to return home. He promised to return for her to make her his wife.
When Reach Thkol arrived back at the royal palace. His parents ordered him to marry a lady who he didn't know. She was a princess from a nearby kingdom. Her name was Rom Saysok, which means beautiful and magical hair. Reach Thkol refused saying that he loved Sovan Macha. His father was angry and said the prince should marry Rom Saysok, the princess. Reach Thkol agreed to meet the princess, and eventually agreed to marry her which angered Sova Mach and she pledged her revenge.
When the prince and his people boarded a ship to head to the princess's kingdom for his marriage, Sovan Mach ordered her pet crocodile, Arthun to kill everyone on the ship. Everyone on the ship was scared and begged the crocodile for mercy. Arthun was unyielding, saying "I only listen to people who feed me." Hearing this, the people on the ship gave him chickens, ducks, and turtle but Athun refused their offerings. The prince prayed for help.
The princess, Rom Saysok, heard his cry and she decided to use her magic hair to save the prince. She stroked her hair and dropped it into the sea. Her hair absorbed all the water and the sea dried up.
Athun, no longer in the sea, died surrounded by the food that the prince's entourage had offered him. He turned into a mountain called Kro Pue mountain (Crocodile Mountain). All the offerings turned into mountains as well - Trong Mean, Trong Tea, and Onderk Mountains (Chicken, Duck, and Turtle Mountains). The ship was stuck on land as well and turned into Sampov Mountain (Phnom Sampov - Ship Mountain). The people were saved from Sovan Macha by the princess, Rom Saysok and they lived long and happy lives. Sovan Macha was later killed by the prince, Reach Thkol."
From the top of Phnom Sampov you can see the other mountains mentioned in this story. We hope that knowing the local significance of the mountain will add to your Battambang trip. Phnom Sampov is of course an important landmark in this story but references to it can be found in temples and statues throughout Battambang and Cambodia. Whenever you see a painting or status of a woman with hair reaching down to the ground riding on a crocodile, think of Rom Saysok and how she saved her prince. Dengue Fever, a modern Cambodian rock band, even has a song about Rom Saysok.
Co-written by Maureen Wyse and Simony Pich