Legend Behind Prasat Neang Khmao
Retold by: Prak Chan Thul. ( December, 2002 Volume 2 No.12 )

Once upon a time there was a powerful king named Preah Bat Soriyavong who lived on Phnom Chisor, a mountain between Phnom Penh and Takeo province. He built five temples and four large ponds there, one at each corner of the mountain. Phnom Chisor is 700 meters high, and is to this day flanked by four large ponds called Tonle Om, Tonle Sgnuort, Tonle Pratrun and Tonle Trun. It was at these serene pools that King Bat Soriyavong spent most of his spare time, taking pleasure in their beautiful design and clear waters. The king had just one child - a daughter called Neang Khmao. By the time she had grown to the age of 16, she was the most beautiful girl in all the palace. One day, Neang Khmao asked her father for permission to visit Tonle Pratrun. The king agreed, but insisted that she should be accompanied by a large group of his subjects.

At the same time, there was a wise and handsome man who had just resigned from being a monk, who also decided to visit the cooling waters of Tonle Pratrun. His name was Bandit Srey. The moment Bandit Srey saw Neang Khmao strolling beside the lake, he fell head over heels in love with her. But he knew by the entourage she was with that he must be the king's daughter. Bandit Srey thought to himself, "I am so lucky to meet such a perfect girl, yet I am just a poor farmer. How can I be fit for the daughter of the king?" But just as Bandit Srey had these thoughts, his love for the young girl seemed to grow and grow, until it became unstoppable. "I will get killed if I ask for her hand in marriage," he told himself. Just then, Bandit Srey had an idea. He remembered the magic that he had learnt when he lived at the pagoda, and picking up a nearby leaf, he blew into it to make magical music. The music went straight to Neang Khmao's heart. "I have heard all kinds of music in the palace, but none of them attracted me like this," she thought to herself. So the princess searched for the source of the leaf music, until finally she found the handsome young man who made it. As soon as she saw Bandit Srey, she too, fell in love. They chatted together on the shore of the lake for many hours, like two little birds singing to one another. When at last evening fell and it was time to part, they said good-bye and set off for home with grief in their hearts. The princess returned to the palace full of sadness. She could neither eat nor sleep. Her servants wondered what had happened - was their mistress sick?

Months later, the memory of the handsome young man with the leaf music had faded a little, and Neang Khmao had all but forgotten about Bandit Srey. So once again, she asked permission from her father to visit Tonle Pratrun, to see if she could find her lover again. This time, servants from the palace followed the princess, and discovered her affair with a common farmer. They thought they would be executed if they kept this secret from the king, so they decided to tell him. The king was furious, and commanded the palace soldiers to behead his daughter. But Neang Khmao's mother, the queen, beseeched her husband to save the life of their lovely daughter, and to just abandon the princess in the forest. The king eventually agreed, and so Neang Khmao was abandoned on the Western side of Phnom Chisor. The king built two temples for her made of bricks and stone, each four meters wide and ten meters high. Now, Neang Khmao faced two pains: abandonment by her family and separation from her lover.

Around this time, another monk called Keo had just returned home from a tour of learning Buddhist knowledge to stay in a pagoda in Takeo province. The monk became famous throughout the district for his wisdom and knowledge of Buddhism. News reached Neang Khmao of this wise, holy man, so she invited the monk to her temples in order to ask him about her fate. One look at the monk's characteristics, and the princess had fallen madly in love with him. She forgot Bandit Srey completely, since the monk was more handsome than her former lover. "Out of sight, out of mind," she thought. Neang Khmao described her problems to the monk pitifully, and pretty soon they became romantically involved, just easily as she forgot about poor Bandit Srey. The monk tried to return to his celibate state and forget about the beautiful princess, but he was only human. He was in love with Neang Khmao. Before too long, the princess asked Keo to resign from the monkhood to be with her. He just couldn't stop loving her, and so he decided to marry her. The couple lived together for the rest of their days in the temples on Phnom Chisor.

In the Khmer language, Neang means a woman, while Khmao means black. Black symbolically denotes bad in Cambodian culture. Prasat is the term for temple. So that is how the two temples on the Western side of Phnom Chisor came to be known as "Prasat Neang Khmao." These days, many people visit Prasat Neang Khmao for pleasure. They believe the story of how the temples got their name is just a fairy tale, and many still go there during festivals and holidays. Prasat Neang Khmao is located 55 km south of Phnom Penh on National Route 2, 23 km north of Takeo town. It can be easily reached by taxi, motorcycle, or by the bus to Takeo town.