From vampires to more benevolent spirits, ghosts are part of day-to-day
- or night-to-night - life for many Cambodians. Post reporter Chea Sotheacheath
talks to people about their experiences with the supernatural.
The souls of the prisoners who have been tortured and killed during Pot Pot's regime
in the Tuol Sleng museum are hungry.
So hungry that guards there say a benefactor needs to come forward and feed them
regularly otherwise they are not happy.
And, as can be imagined, an unhappy ghost is a problem.
"The ghosts always haunt us if we don't invite the monks to pray and offer them
food," says museum security guard Keo Monyroth.
The ghosts use a variety of techniques to express their torment. Monyroth says sometimes
it is the screaming voices from the torture rooms, sometimes it is the sound of chains
being dragged across the floor.
Other guards say they have often seen a ball of fire flying from the south and dropping
into the north side of the museum.
But while a sound and light show - complete with pyrotechnics - may be frightening
there are other more sinister actions attributed to ghosts.
Monyroth says that in 1995 he had a nightmare about an evil ghost coming to take
him away. He said the ghost was a large black shadowy figure with long tusks.
"Ta long tusks said 'I have come to take you' but I said: 'No'."
"The ghost still kept asking me and I kept refusing."
The ghost then turned his attention to another of the guards sleeping in the room.
Monyroth says he awoke and turned to his friend, Sophat, in the next bunk for help
but his friend had turned into the ghost - so Monyroth kicked his friend/ghost twice.
Monyroth says he then jumped out from under his mosquito net with the ghost chasing
him. This woke the four remaining guards.
His colleagues soon became frightened as Monyroth told them of his dream.
Finally, all of them decided to stay and sleep in one group but they then realized
that they had not seen Sophat since he got his kicking. A quick search soon found
him asleep next to one of the old torture rooms - an area that Sophat tried
to avoid at night because he was very frightened of the ghosts.
Sophat went back with his friends but 15 minutes later the guards heard the sound
of knocking coming from Sophat's net. When they checked, they found him dead.
Most of the guards had no doubts that the ghost who had haunted Monyroth had switched
his attention to Sophat and had taken him to a dark place and stolen his soul. Sophat's
wife Kim Chandara says that her husband had not been sick, so maybe the ghost did
A doctor who examined the body more prosaically suggested a heart attack.
Monyroth and other Tuol Sleng guards say they often ask the monks for good luck prayers
to protect them from the ghosts.
"We know the ghost will haunt us especially, before Pchum Ben and the Khmer
New year ceremony. So we always invite the monks to pray here before the ghosts haunt
us," says another guard named Phal Kun.
Ung Sa-meoun, 52, another guard at Tuol Sleng says he had often been haunted since
starting work at the museum but it did not worry him till Sophat died.
Now he says he does not trust the ghosts and is a bit more cautious with them.
His most surprising visitation has been from Chinese ghosts who chat away during
the night in one of the rooms but he does not understand what they are saying.
But ghosts are not only concerned with snatching food or souls. Sometimes revenge
is on their list.
Han Thy, 59, said he and four other men took over handling cremations at Wat Langka
after the previous team got caught by ghosts stealing from corpses.
Thy says some of the people from the old team had stolen valuables from a coffin
before they cremated the corpse. A ghost visited the men at night and demanded the
property back, Thy says.
One of the men told Thy that the ghost dragged him off his bed demanding his clothes
The story eventually got back to the monks who fired the thieves.
Thy says that even a knowledge of Pali will not protect a thief from a ghost because
without honesty Pali is ineffective.
In addition to his skill in dealing with the temporal remains of the current life,
Thy believes he is also has some ability at dealing with their spiritual remains
He says last dry season he managed to sort out a Phnom Penh house that was having
some trouble with spiritual vampires.
The homeowner had built one of his support columns over a vampire highway killing
a number of vampire children.
This apparently upset the mother vampire who appeared to the owner's daughter during
Thy repeated the story she told him: "An old lady in a white robe with long
hair appeared from one of the columns of the new house, came up stairs and placed
her hand over my window," Thy recalled the story.
"She then vomited lots of blood from her mouth after telling me that her chidden
had died because we built our house on her place and she wanted us to remove it.
She then disappeared"
Thy says they tried prayer and offerings at the pagoda but the vampire continued
to plague the family. Many Khmer kru (spiritual teachers) tried in vain to exorcise
the ghosts so Thy decided to try.
He says he started to search for the vampire by praying in Pali. Soon he discovered
their camp - the very column from where the mother vampire had emanated when she
confronted the daughter.
Thy having worked out what the problem was then built a vampire road detour around
the column so they would not be blocked by the pillar.
"I prayed in Pali suggesting the vampire stop haunting the landlord. And then
I took a stick and drew a line on the ground near by the column to make a new road