The Ghosts of Yeak Laom
“…the lovers ran into the forest to hide from the princess’s father. The Giant-King would not let his daughter go. He surrounded the lovers with strong men and they pulled up every tree from the ground, making the circle around the lovers smaller. When the soldiers dug out a huge hole all the way to the middle, the lovers were already gone. The Giant-King was so sad that his tears and the rain filled up the hole that the strong men had made and now there is Yeak Laom.” A woman in traditional, rural clothing describes the ancient legend in extremely broken English as I struggle to fit the pieces of the story together like a puzzle. Her long black hair spills over her shoulders and down to her waist, framing her small Khmer body. In the distance, children jump off a small wooden pier into the water, their bright orange flotation jackets offsetting the green colors surrounding them. Cicadas let out high-pitched breathless wails, adding an eerie air to the quiet lake.
I push stalks of bamboo out of the way as I follow the quiet path around the small lake. The bamboo grows and curls thickly over the small dirt path, creating natural tunnels pierced by small swathes of light. With each push from the light breeze, the light dances along the forest ground. The lake sits still; a perfectly round jade-stone in an emerald forest. A large fish sits under the roots of a tree that has been slowly slipping into the water with the passage of time. Dragonflies melodically drift by, landing on small pieces of wood that peak their heads out from the water’s surface.
A young couple walks by, we stop and talk about travel, the whimsical nature of man, and the infinite beauty of destinations abroad. “I can tell, you are a kind person,” the woman says as they turn to go. As they disappear around the corner, my mind plays with the idea that they must be the spirits of the lovers that escaped the Giant-King. I look out over the lake one last time; full of life, tranquil, and unbroken. A nearby tree gives up its service to hold my clothes as I ready myself for entrance into the briskly cold lake. Yeak Loam quickly seeps into my skin as I break the surface and dive below. Under the water I am full of life, tranquil, and unbroken. The perfect way to start my new journey into Laos.