Phnom Sampov, 12 kilometers west of Battambang, is the locale for a Homeric Khmer
legend in which the machinations of a sentient crocodile were foiled by the stroke
of a maiden's hair.
The story begins in the old Khmer capital in the Dangkrek Mountains, where Prince
Reach Kol fell in love with Neang Sovan Macha. Along with her beauty, Sovan Macha
was noted for her close friendship with a talking crocodile named Athon.
But as in contemporary royal families, worries arose over the appropriateness of
Sovan Macha's involvement with a prince. Sovan Macha, after all, was poor and her
relationship with an intelligent crocodile was a source of no small concern
Kol decided to end his relationship and to cement the severing of his son's ties
to Sovan Macha, Kol's father asked his loyalists to find a princess to marry his
Soon enough a suitable match was found in Princess Rom Say Sork of a neighboring
kingdom. Along with the royal blood that flowed in her veins, Say Sork's most notable
other attribute was a head of divine hair that allowed her the granting of any wish
with one stroke of her silky mane.
After the betrothal was finalized, Reach Kol ordered his people to load the engagement
presents onto a ship to retrieve his new wife.
When Sovan Macha learned of this, she flew into a jealous rage and ordered her pet
crocodile Athon to block the ship from leaving port. Attempts by Reach Kol to reason
with Athon were met with the obstinate reply of "I serve only those who feed
That prompted a shower of vegetables, chickens and ducks tossed into the harbor by
Kol and his retinue in the hope that Athon would switch his allegience to them. Athon
chastely ignored the barrage of tempting edibles raining down around him and continued
his blockade of the ship.
Desperate, Reach Kol prayed for divine intervention to allow him to reach his beloved.
A helpful spirit passed on his yearnings to Rom Say Sork herself.
In order to break the control that Athon the crocodile had on her nuptial bliss,
she began stroking her hair and wished that the sea would recede.
The result of her strokes were soon apparent: Athon was soon floundering on the now-empty
sea bottom among the remains of the food that he had declined. He died soon after,
his body becoming a mountain called Crocodile Mountain (Phnom Kroh Peu) within sight
of Phnom Sampov.
Smaller mountains sprang up around Crocodile Mountain, made up of chicken and duck
carcasses and their former cages.
Phnom Sampov is now one of the foremost tourist sites of Battambang province. Both
tourists and locals flock to the area each day to visit the small stupas and temple
at the mountain summit and to view the geological monument to Athon the crocodile
looming in the near distance.
Others pay homage to the lesser-known grisly remnants of the recent past - the Khmer
Rouge-era "killing caves" of Laang Teng Kloun, Lang Lkoun, Laang Pka Sla
and their piles of bleaching bones.
Sadly, those Khmer Rouge victims have not found peace in death. Villagers report
that many of the heads of the victims have been stolen from the caves. Locals speculate
that the heads have been deployed as protective talismans or used by sorcerers to
Shrapnel damage on the now-peaceful stu-pas betray the fact that Phnom Sampov
was a front line position for Lon Nol forces during the 1970-1975 civil war.
Hout Phalla, a monk who lives on the mountain's summit, is initiating projects to
develop the area in line with the principles of Buddhist belief.