A statue of Neang Sok Kro Op.
A high mountain rises alongside National Route 2, about 15 kilometers from the border
with Vietnam. It is one of several in the area, and from its highest point, visitors
can see a temple, which at a distance appears to be nothing more than a large rock.
This is 'Bayang Ko temple' on Bayang Ko Mountain.
At Tunleap market in Takeo province a narrow dirt road leads through the village.
The road winds past two other temples on the way up the mountain: Neang Sok Kro Op
(Temple of Fragrant Hair) and Preah Bath Day Klei.
The legend linking the temples refers to King Bayang, who was forced to flee his
mountain capital of Dong Rek when he heard that the Siamese wanted to capture his
The king and his wife left their capital at night, but during the journey he encountered
a huge storm that ripped the sails of his boat. King Bayang prayed to powerful spirits
to protect him and his entourage, which they did. In gratitude he performed a sacrifice
for their 'saving Bayang's head', which is how the temple and the mountain got their
The king decided to stay on the mountain, but before long the Siamese discovered
his hideout and sent a troupe of Lakhon performers to kidnap his wife, Neang Sok
The ruse worked. While the queen was enjoying the performance, the stage, which was
on the water, sailed away when the performers hoisted a sail. Although her captors
provided her with a temple and first-class service, she missed her husband and six-year-old
Twelve years later her son, Preah Bat Day Klei, asked his father for permission to
find his mother and bring her back home. After receiving the king's consent, he sailed
to Siam territory. On his arrival, he met a beautiful woman, fell in love with her
and told her he would bring her back home with him.
When he arrived home again, the king was horrified: the woman was none other than
his former wife, and Preah Bat Day Klei's own mother. The prince apologized profusely
to his father, who ordered him to construct 1,001 waterponds for the citizens of
the kingdom to alleviate the bad karma of his act.
The ruins of Bayang Ko temple on Bayang Ko Mountain frame distant hills and floodplain.
These days the temples share many of the less fortunate characteristics of other
temples in Cambodia. Bayang Ko and other four temples - Neang Sok Kro Op, Preah Bat
Day Klei, Doper Nhien and Preah Kor Preah Keo - have been plundered both by man and
the weather. Trees and plants have uprooted much of the stone and brick work.
Small farming plots sit clustered on the mount-ainside. The trees that used to grow
there have been cut down for firewood or to make charcoal. The caretaker of the Bayang
Ko temples for the past 20 years, Sok Mon, told the Post that the local people had
ignored the local authority, which had tried to protect the trees.
Mon said that the forest had disappeared in the 1980s. The strong winds that whip
through the site, combined with erosion from rainfall, make her concerned that the
temple will deteriorate further. But, she said, this does not dissuade visitors who
visit mainly in the dry season.
The legendary king would be pleased that his temples are still visited by royalty:
the most recent, said Mon, a Thai princess.