SUPERSTITION and risk-taking go hand-in-hand in Pailin's highly-charged environment
of extremes. Denizens believe in fate and do what they can to feel control in a potentially
fortuitous or unforgiving environment.
Residents consider themselves lucky for good reason. They say that inhabitants of
the resource-rich region are protected and nurtured by ambient powers that reign
over the area.
The most powerful forces are said to reside atop Wat Kao Khang. People come and make
offerings to two shrines devoted to a man and a woman, Lok Ta Ou and Phnom Yatt,
asking for favors like: life, prosperity, protection, children and marriage.
Residents say that Phnom Yatt is the more powerful of the two. A noodle seller swears
the offerings pay off. "Any proposal to this lady will always lead to success
- or at least a majority of the time. Young couples pray for marriage, children and
maybe finding gems," she says. "Soldiers always made offerings to her before
they went into battle and civilians would make offerings asking not to get bombed."
People revere another shrine on the hill devoted to Lok Ta Ou, revered as a god for
giving life. "He was the abbot of the pagoda until he died about five years
ago. When he was alive he had one bad leg and couldn't walk, but he could do magical
things like disappear or go into the earth," she claims. "He was very good
at making sick people well and even bringing back the dead."
Legend has it that he was shot by one of his students in Thailand in 1993 and that
his bones have been brought back.
"People all over Thailand believe in his powers. They make necklaces with his
picture on them. They worship him like a god," she says.
"People make offerings to a shrine with his photograph. He controls the area
inside the temple complex, but if you try to take a picture of him, it will not develop
or be blurry unless you ask Phnom Yatt first. Really! I tried it and the whole roll
came out blank"
A woman buying a bottle of 'Wrestler' wine confirms the story: "I tried it too
and the image was perfectly clear in the camera, but the pictures all came out blurry."
Another legend revolves around an ox which used to roam around the city. "During
the war there was an ox born with five legs. People brought the ox to give to Phnom
Yatt as a son. The ox grew up and if it stepped on a mine, it wouldn't explode. If
the ox went into any area there was always victory. Soldiers would always pay respects
to it before fighting," the vendor recalls.
"Before it walked around the town and people saw it all of the time," she
says. "When peace came, the ox disappeared. It may still be alive, but nobody
has seen it since."