The traveler has a premonition. They find themselves in Kampong Cham with no memory of how they arrived, but they know they’ve been here before. In search of alms, they find a temple; the temple of Kuk, high in the Han Chey hills. The monks tell them in no uncertain terms to ‘avoid the scales’; these kindly benefactors cast alternating looks of dread and pity on the figure before them, as if they already know what’s in store. Laughing, so does the traveler. The nearby Mekong river – vast, unknowable, elemental – gurgles in anticipation.
They stumble from the almshouse through the mesmerising sway of undulating rice fields. For a moment they fall into a reverie, locked into inaction by the midday sun’s balmy embrace. The traveler has been here before and they know they cannot delay. Wat Han Chey, the ancient temple, awaits.
With supreme will they force themselves forward. The accumulated detritus slows their progress but the traveler enjoys a fleeting moment of whimsy: amongst the rubbish lies a discarded condom packet. Here in Kampong Cham, there are supplicants who kneel before an altogether more secular altar. The traveler begins their ascent.
It’s difficult to move now, the coarse granite stairs proving more hindrance than a help. Disembodied voices emanate from the summit, their sibilance addictive in their mystery
The traveler clings to the stairway, unaware of the fatal error. All around is a cool, limbic fury: the whole temple has come alive, undulating and writhing. A forked tongue, impossibly big, wraps around the traveler, holding them still. They should feel lucky; their mind has gone blank, they feel nothing. They’ll never know what awaited them atop the snake temple of Kampong Cham.