Tang Dany, 8, and her older sister, Tang Srey Leak, 13, with their fake blood talism in Kampong Cham.
In the small hours of the night, a crescendo of howling dogs rips apart the deep
For the residents of Thbong Khmum district in Kampong Cham, the howls are an ominous
sign that the dogs have spotted evil spirits wandering nearby.
While restless dogs in the countryside may not seem cause for concern, residents
of Kampong Cham and some neighboring provinces have been gripped by fear of bloodsucking
vampires and have begun taking preventative action.
"Mixing red dye with water looks like the blood of a virgin girl," says
Chheang Lay, a 37-year-old resident of Thbong Khmum. "Any household that does
not hang bottles or plastic bags of red-dyed water in front of their houses risks
having evil spirits come into their homes and sucking the blood of their daughters
or family member."
Lay, who has a 15-year-old daughter, says that two weeks ago he filled a plastic
water bottle with the fake blood and hung it outside his house to quench the thirst
of roaming vampires.
Along the streets of his village, hundreds of bottles and bags of bright red water
hang on gates and doorways.
"It's only this year, about a month ago, that people started using the red dye
and water that looks like blood," said Sim Sithov, Thbong Khmum district chief,
adding that most families in his district had taken up the trend.
"People told me that this year there would be bei sarch chunh chuk cheam [evil
spirits that suck blood] or giants who need humans and animals, while other people
said they just do it to keep their families safe," Sithov said.
The farming area of Thbong Khmum district has long been a stronghold of superstition.
Locals insist all new district chiefs honor a powerful neak ta, or ancestor spirit,
before taking office, and residents usually place scarecrows outside their homes
to protect their families from wandering spirits.
It's unclear what started this year's colorful variation on the tradition, but the
tales making the rounds are imaginative and often gory.
Duch Pic, 74, from Thlak village, says there have been many fatalities on the roads
lately, and those who have died have become vampires. Pic believes the vampires like
to roam at night to find food and their favorite treat is blood, so she has hung
two bottles of red-dye water to offer to any thirsty spirits.
At the more gruesome end of the story-telling spectrum, Huy La, 13, tells the story
of a pregnant women who lived in a remote part of Thbong Khmum. She waited so long
for her husband to return from the market with pork that she tore open her stomach
and ate her unborn child.
Another horror story is one of a family checking on their cattle shelter, only to
find blood gushing onto the ground - the result, say the locals, of a vampire vomiting
after overindulging on cow blood.
While Seng Hour, the acting chief of monks at Wat Ang Naram Srei Siem in Thbong Khmum
district, says the fear of rogue spirits is rooted in Brahmanism, not Buddhism, the
popularity of local and imported horror films might also play a role.
One of La's other stories - that of a woman who died giving birth to twins, who then
wander around angrily sucking blood - also happens to be a common theme in B-grade
horror films across the Kingdom.
Vampire skeptics include La's father, 46-year-old Seak Ou, who says the climate of
fear has been drummed up by thieves to keep people indoors while they steal cattle.
While La claims she is not afraid of vampires, she admits that she asked her father
to hang a bottle of red-dyed water inside the first floor of her house, tucked out
of sight, just in case.
District chief Sithov says many people are jumping on the superstition bandwagon.
"People just copy from one another in order not to miss out," Sithov said.
"If they did not do it and had problems later, they would have regrets because
they did not follow the others."
Whatever the reasons behind people's fear, it seems vampire fear is spreading beyond
Thbong Khmum district.
Sun Sokly, district chief of Ponhea Krek in Kampong Cham, said his region is also
dotted with bottles of red-dye water, while Chheang Lay says the talisman has spread
to Chhlong district in Kratie and Svay Chrum district in Svay Rieng.
Uy Than, chief of Svay Chrum, confirmed that people in his district began hanging
fake-blood offerings about a month ago, saying they considered teenage girls particularly
The upshot for Than is that an informal nightly curfew for young women makes it easier
to protect their safety.
"Now most of the girls in my community are prohibited by their parents [to go
out at night] and must stay at home," Than said, adding that the boys were still
out strolling after dark.
Back in Thbong Khmum district, locals are also hurrying back home as dusk approaches,
seeking the safety of houses and their protective offerings of fake blood at the
Ghosts with the most
Ghosts play an important role in the religious and cinematic life of Cambodians.
The Post has consulted with the dark side and come up with this beginner's guide
to Khmer ghosts and ghouls.
Arb - A staple of Cambodia horror flicks, an arb is believed to be a living person,
usually a woman, with the magical ability to detach its head and vital organs and
fly off into the night to consume unsavory things such as infected wounds, afterbirth,
frogs and garbage.
Bei sarch chunh chuk chheam - An "evil spirit that sucks blood", or vampire.
Khmoach - The umbrella term for any ghost, but usually indicating the souls of those
properly blessed by monks.
Khmoach anatha - This "vagrant ghost" did not receive the correct burial
rites and continues to wander the earth.Khmoach tai hoang - "Ghosts who have
died an unnatural death" such as murder, suicide or attack by an animal, are
also restless spirits.
Khmoach chhao - A "raw ghost" is said to be the result of a cat jumping
over a corpse. These zombie-like creatures are a common sight in Chinese horror films
dubbed into Khmer, appearing either with arms outstretched or jumping to suck the
blood of humans.
Yumabal - The "Guardian of Hell" acts as an investigator for the judgement
Yumareach - The "King of Devils" makes the final decision on which of the
nine gates of hell a soul will be sent. A stay in gate one is usually short and followed
by superior reincarnation. Gate nine leads to an eternity of torture in hell.
Yumatout - A devil or demon. Employed as a torturer in the lower levels of hell.