It was a loud evening deep in the jungle, the crickets, frogs and odd cicadas were busy playing their usual nighttime symphony. A group of trekkers were getting ready to bunk down for the night.
“My friend was zipped up in his hammock and beginning to doze off, when he noticed that all of the insects had stopped making sounds: the jungle went completely silent,” said Greg McCann, a field coordinator for HabitatID, a conservation group working in Virachey National Park, where the trekkers were camping.
A few moments later, a horrid smell engulfed the camp – the trekkers all emerged from their tents to find its source. A minute after that, the smell had gone and the insects and frogs returned.
“The next morning the rangers refused to discuss the issue and wanted out of the park ASAP,” retold McCann. “My friend assumed they thought it was a ghost.”
All over the globe, stories abound about mysterious creatures that live in remote, often mountainous areas. The legendary Himalayan Yeti, North America’s Sasquatch, the Vietnamese nguoi ung, Australian yowie and Indonesian batatut have intrigued explorers and terrified children for generations.
It was Cambodia’s answer to the myth, the tek tek, that the rangers believed was lurking that night in Virachey, which covers Ratanakkiri and Stung Treng provinces.
Said to live in the far northern parts of the national park, the tek tek – according to a series of accounts that vary from person to person – is a frightening and bizarre creature to behold.
He’s said to be bipedal, short in stature – roughly five feet tall – and covered in greyish-red hair, with arms like machetes. He’s rumoured to have a healthy appetite for humans.
Others say he’s much larger and without knees. Some say that in the national park hideous roars are often heard at night, as hungry tek teks start biting their own flesh.
McCann, whose work takes him deep into Virachey National Park (VNP), recalled a hike in January this year, when he was warned by his local colleagues not to call out to others on the team.
If they were separated, he was told, the tek tek could “learn to imitate our voices and then trick us by calling us away using our friend’s voice – once separated from the group, we would quickly be murdered.”
Similar accounts have been recorded in the province of neighbouring Vietnam that borders Vireachey. US Vietnam War veteran Kregg P.J Jorgenson’s book, Very Crazy, G.I., mentions a human-like creature encountered by troops fighting near the park.
In one chapter dedicated to the ape-like creature, which he suspected is the nguoi rung, a local name meaning “the people of the forest”, the monster steps into a clearing about fifteen feet from six Americans and studies them before turning back the way it had come and “easily climbed back up the steep rise”.
“While [Linderer] was ready for a Viet Cong soldier, he wasn’t ready for the face that peered through the underbrush,” writes Jorgenson.
The soldiers speculated it could have been a mountain ape, whom one had claimed to have seen previously – before deciding it didn’t fit the description.
But Vu Ngoc Thanh, a retired member of the biology faculty at the Vietnam National University, has actually attempted to investigate reports of human-like apes living in the region.
His primate-researching projects are based in Chu Mom Ray National Park, which shares a border with Virachey National Park, near the Cambodian-Laos-Vietnam border.
“Locals still tell me about strange creatures, like humans, living on top of Chumomray Mountain,” he wrote in an email. “Two years ago, I tried to come up the mountain to check but had no success, as there was no time and it was dangerous.”
Back on the Cambodian side of the border, locals believe the tek tek population may have largely diminished, as the cryptid primate has fallen victim to an earthly blight: deforestation.
“One ranger told me that his grandfather and friends say that tek teks used to be encountered 30 to 40 years ago, back when Ratanakkiri was something like 95 per cent covered in forest,” said McCann.
“They say the combination of the Vietnam War, with the massive ordnance dropped by US planes, plus modern deforestation and poaching did them in.”