Kampong Chhnang’s famed "ghost house” has become a shrine for the superstitious, as well as the focus of 2006 movie detailing the isolated home’s legendary haunting.
Passing motorists who glance at the building beside a quiet stretch of National Road 5 in Kampong Chhnang province are likely to assume it's just another farm house.
But a closer look reveals something eerie about the house, known according to local legend as "the house the ghost bought."
Cambodians who travel often on the highway know better than to pass the house without uttering a word of prayer or presenting offerings to appease the spirits believed to dwell within its splintering wooden walls.
The stairs to the house have disappeared and visitors have to scale one of the wooden stilts on which it rests to gain entry.
Inside, the house is empty apart from burnt incense sticks and a water jug. Despite flapping shutters that open to reveal dusty, surrounding fields, the house is surprisingly dust free.
Phnom Penh resident Chhe Phallin and a group of relatives and friends recently drove the 120 kilometers to the Baribor district house to thank the spirits, whom she believes granted her wish about her father's health.
"My father had gone insane, even wandering naked in the streets at night," she said as she made offerings of food and incense to thank the spirits.
"I came to the house last month and prayed with incense and begged the spirits for help. Two days later my father came back to my house - normal. Now he looks after my daughter, cleans the house, cooks our meals. What can I say? I have to believe."
Phallin noted how clean the house was, even though "no one cleans it."
A movie filmed on location by the CamPro Film production company in 2006 tells the popular myth about the house. According to the myth, a young couple who had just moved into the newly built house was approached in a dream by a ghost who offered to buy it for $3,000 worth of gold. The couple agreed and in the morning, as promised, found the gold on their doorstep.
Even though no one lives there, the interior of "the house the ghost bought” in Kampong Chhnang province remains mysteriously dust-free.
But they did not move out, and after ignoring warnings from the ghost to vacate the house, the couple woke one morning in the surrounding field with their belongings set neatly around them.
The movie shows the couple eventually leaving the house, but for any others who dare to sleep in it, according to the myth, the field awaits.
Huy Yaleng, assistant to the director of CamPro Films, said the company decided to make the movie after hearing the myth about the house. He attributes the movie's popularity throughout the country to a strong Khmer belief in superstition.
"Most of the actors and actresses felt afraid when they realized they would be shooting at a real haunted house," Yaleng said, "but nothing happened because before shooting we prepared a Buddhist prayer to ask the spirit if we could film the movie."
The caretaker of the house is 50-year-old Nhek Phea, whose family lives nearby. Phea said some elements of the movie are based on fact - the house was built in 1993 by his older sister, Samrith Lorn, who tried to sell it a year later for $3,000, an exorbitant price at the time.
But the rest of the myth about the house is based on nothing more than rumor, Phea said.
After ignoring warnings from the ghost to
vacate the house, the couple woke one
morning in the surrounding field with their belongings set neatly around them.
The myth, he said, began as the result of an offhand comment by a local villager, who had said no one would buy such a highly priced house and it would have to be sold to a ghost.
"The house is now a holy place for believers in spirits," said Phea. "Every day, many people come here to pray to the ghosts - even rich people drive their luxurious cars here to pray for good earnings. They make offerings of roasted pigs, chickens, and fruit, as well as money."
Phea said the cash offerings are donated to a nearby pagoda and nearby families often enjoy the food offerings. Last year one staunch believer in the myth spent $7,000 to build a concrete shrine honoring the ghosts that stands in front of the house.
Phea said he tells everyone there are no ghosts but no one listens. The rumor continues to spread and the house keeps attracting an increasing number of Cambodians from throughout the country.
Although he claims not to make any money from its fame, Phea is happy to maintain the house as a place of supplication and prayer.
"The rumor cannot be stopped," he said. "It's a local belief."