The Top 5 Most Haunted Places in Cambodia

© kellepics / Pixabay
Photo of Marissa
8 June 2018

By nature, Cambodians are superstitious and take great measures to ensure the tortured spirits of the dead trapped on Earth are kept at bay. Here, we look at practises carried out regularly by Cambodians and the country’s most haunted spots.

Evidence of Cambodians’ staunch belief in ghosts lurks around every corner. Spirit houses guard the entrances of businesses and homes and are regularly packed with offerings of food and drink to deter any unwanted ghosts from coming inside. Spirits often appear in Khmer folklore tales, horror films dominate the cinemas and there is a genuine fear of places deemed to be haunted.

Then there’s Pchum Ben, one of the country’s major holidays and a time when it’s believed ghosts from the last seven generations unable to pass onto the next life return to earth for seven days. Hungry, they roam the land searching for food, tortured by their pinhole mouths that are unfit for stuffing the face.

With Buddhist beliefs running strong through the country, it is also thought that those who died violent deaths or lived a sinful life are unable to pass onto their next life and left to haunt the land of the living. Taking into account the devastation caused by the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, there are many souls wondering the country.

This deep-rooted superstition and belief in sorcery can also prove deadly. In 2014, a man was hacked to death by his neighbours, who thought he was practising black magic. The same year, three people allegedly murdered a woman accused of practising sorcery.

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, here are five of the spookiest spots in Cambodia.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

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Cells that held political prisoners at Tuol Sleng, also known as S-21 | © Davide Calabresi / Shutterstock
This former high school in central Phnom Penh makes for a sobering visit for the horrific role it played during the Khmer Rouge regime. During that time, the former school was transformed into a political prisoners’ camp known as Security Prison 21 (S-21). Out of an estimated 20,000 prisoners, only seven survived. The rest were tortured and killed there, or sent to their death at Choeung Ek. Much of the site has been left as it was discovered in 1979 when the Vietnamese army liberated Phnom Penh. The blood-splattered walls, tiny brick cells and abandoned torture tools offer a sobering insight into the brutal regime. Twice a year, museum staff invite monks to hold a ceremony at the museum for the spirits of the victims.

Choeung Ek Genocidal Center

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The Buddhist stupa holding more than 5,000 skulls exhumed from the killing field at Choeung Ek | © Marissa Carruthers
Between 1975 and 1979, the Pol Pot-led Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia, with an estimated two million people killed or dying from starvation and exhaustion. Almost 9,000 bodies were discovered at the mass graves of Choeung Ek, more commonly known as the Killing Fields, about 30km from Phnom Penh. Now serving as a memorial, the chilling site features a Buddhist stupa filled with human skulls retrieved from the fields. Visitors can walk around the exhumed graves and learn more through a headset-guided walking tour.

Bokor Mountain, Kampot

Casino, Church, Hill Station
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Bokor Hill Station | © Svetlana Eremina / Shutterstock
The 42-mile drive from Kampot town to Bokor’s peak is a biker’s dream, only accessible to motorbikes and cars. It is home to the Popokvil waterfall, a giant Buddhist statue, abandoned Bokor Hill Station, a giant casino, derelict church, unparalleled views, and a refreshingly cool climate. The hill station comes with an eerie past. Commissioned by the French, it was built under harsh conditions, with almost 1,000 Cambodians dying while building it. It was completed in 1925 and became a top resort with the colonial elite. By the 1940s, the French had abandoned the resort and in the 1950s and ’60s, it became popular with wealthy Khmers. It was abandoned again during the Khmer Rouge and was left to crumble until recently. While visitors used to enjoy exploring the crumbling shell, it reopened earlier this year as Le Bokor Palace.

Ghost House

Kampong Cham’s infamous Ghost House on National Road 5 has a chilling backstory, which put it at the centre of a Khmer horror film detailing the haunted house’s history. According to local legend, a young couple moved into the newly-built house. A ghost came to them in a dream and offered to buy the house for $3,000 worth of gold. They agreed and in the morning found the gold outside their door but, despite warnings from the ghost, the couple refused to move out and woke up one day in a nearby field with their belongings around them. It has remained empty ever since, and mysteriously without any dust inside. Superstitious Cambodians will pray when they pass the house or leave offerings at the entrance. In 2005, The Haunted House was released in cinemas, shot at the location. The cast and crew held Buddhist prayers before filming to ask any spirits to leave the house while they were there.

Independence Hotel

Many locals believe this hotel in Sihanoukville is haunted. Built in 1964, it quickly became popular with the rich and famous. However, it shut its doors in the mid-1970s and became a base for Khmer Rouge soldiers. According to unproven myths, the swimming pool was used to hold prisoners, with mass executions taking place at the hotel. It was left to fall into dilapidation, reopening in 1982 and going onto be a hangout for UNTAC troops during the early 1990s. It was closed in 1999, underwent a radical revamp and started welcoming guests again in 2007. Many have reported sightings of ghosts during their stay. Today, it stands as the upmarket Independence Hotel by DARA.