It's the house that Mok built. Scores of people were murdered here, ghosts still
haunt it, and fortunes of gold were hidden in the walls and garden. Or so the legend
On the edge of a peninsula on the lake in downtown Takeo, an idyllic location catching
the sunrise and sunset rays, sits a three-story monument to the Democratic Kampuchea
regime custom-built by one of its most notorious leaders, Ta Mok.
Widely believed to have been Mok's home and headquarters of the Southwest Zone during
the regime, the house is as famous around Tak-eo as the guerrilla chief himself.
"When they finished it, they killed all the workers," says a local farmer.
"After his house was finished, Ta Mok had a big party for all the workers at
a wat. Then he killed them all," says another local man.
The ghosts of the dead still roam the house, many believe. Several foreigners who
stayed there during the UN peace-keeping mission swear that, in the middle of the
night, they heard the cries of suffering people and the rattling of chains.
Wandering around the house today, it's easy to believe the myths. The house is unfinished,
metal and concrete pylons poking up from the third floor roof, giving a sense of
something interrupted, of unfinished business. The serenity of the peninsula, with
the gentle lapping of the lake, and eerieness of the house's large rooms - deserted
except for a policeman and his family who look after the building - produce a ghostly
atmosphere. Listen to a few tales from the locals, and the imagination does the rest.
But much of the legend of Mok's house is not true, according to local officials.
For starters, he never lived there, nor used it as his headquarters.
"The house on the lake was built in 1977 for foreign guests who came to work
for the province," according to Tit Khem, a local official, in apparent reference
to Chinese advisers to the KR.
Khem, who served the KR in Takeo town during the regime, said Mok had two houses:
one in rural Kampong Ampil and another home and office in a large but simple wooden
house in Takeo town.
The second house, formerly the home of the provincial military commander during the
Sihanouk times, is now the gendarmarie police headquarters. Khem says he used to
see Mok walking around the house in a sarong.
The better-known house on the lake was reportedly built on the site of a Vietnamese
temple, complete with Vietnamese monks, which had stood there since the French colonial
times. The temple was razed to the ground and the house built on orders of Mok, who
frequently visited it, according to Khem, who says it was designed by Chinese engineers.
Khem doesn't believe the stories about massacres of the house builders. But he confirms
that nearby Borei village was evacuated by the KR, who "killed people in the
So-called 'old people' - those who had lived in KR-controlled territory before Pol
Pot seized all of Cambodia - were moved into the village.
As for the house serving as a prison, Khem - a former KR driver who took prisoners
to detention centers in the province - says he never heard of prisoners being taken
to the lake.
Today, the house is used as an unofficial guesthouse for visiting government officials
and anyone else who will pay a few thousand riels.
Policeman Sat Soeun, who lives there and is in charge of preparing rooms for its
occasional guests, agrees with Khem's version of history.
"It was for Chinese delegations. Ta Mok never slept here himself. He just came
here when the Chinese guests stayed here. They started to build it in 1976 or 1977,
but it wasn't finished because of the Vietnamese invasion.
"It's not true that the people who built this house were killed," he insists,
but adds that workers who "made mistakes" would probably have been killed.
"No ghosts," swears Soeun, who has lived here for years. "I've never
been frightened about ghosts."
So why the ghost tales? Soeun comes up with perhaps the most plausible explanation:
"Those stories are propaganda from [Takeo hotel owners] who don't want people
to stay here. If they don't use this kind of magic story, then people won't stay
at their hotels."
Ghosts didn't scare off a rush of fortune seekers - believing that Mok must have
left behind caches of gold when he fled - from all around Cambodia in the months
and years after the Vietnamese invasion.
Soeun points to a sunken ditch in the garden: "That's where people dug up the
ground looking for gold. There were so many rumors that a casket of gold was buried
there, and there was gold hidden in the walls of the house.
"That hole was dug up by people from Kandal. Then some people from Kampong Cham
heard that there was a lot of gold just south of the house. They said they knew the
location. They dug and dug, but nobody ever found anything."
The stories of the gold, like the ghosts, never went away. They were fueled over
the years by some people, apparently former KR, coming to collect long-hidden caches
"One day, a man came along on an ox-cart. He stopped on the bridge, and went
into the water. He came out with a shoe, full of gold. He got back into his ox-cart
and went off," recounts a local villager, pointing to a bridge near the house.
Mok's real house, now the gendarmerie headquarters, was also ripped apart by gold-seekers
after the fall of the KR regime. "Everyone thought Mok must have been rich,"
says a gendarmerie chief, sheepishly admitting that he dug holes up to his chest
all around the house, but never found anything.
As for the house on the lake, it has yet to attract the attention of any hotel or
tourism developer. Today, the former DK house still has its uses for 'the masses'.
It's the cheapest, yet respectable, place in town to take your songsa [boyfriend
or girlfriend] for a night of passion, according to a local moto taxi driver. And,
if you don't mind the ghosts, you might even find some gold.