The next animal may share its mythological heritage with a living animal. The draw of any trip to Angkor is usually a visit to the vast and towering temple complex known as Angkor Wat. On passing through the outer gates, a causeway flanked by seven-headed naga serpents leads to the central temple complex.
The naga is a snake of gigantic proportions. In Thailand the naga is depicted as a large crested serpent. But at Angkor, the naga loses its crest in favor of a more ominous multi-headed appearance reminiscent of the Hydra from Greek mythology.
It is believed that the naga has the power to shape shift into human form and walk among man. Buddhist manuscripts describe a variety of killing methods available to the naga, including a fatal poisonous bite, the strength to constrict its victims within its deadly coils, and the ability to spit a paralyzing venom.
The naga is said to be able to kill simply by staring into the eyes of its victims, as well as another mythological snake, the basilisk of mediaeval Europe.
So is its legend based on a real animal that once lived? The inhabitants of Southeast Asia strongly believe in the naga. Once a year hundreds of thousands of locals and tourists gather along the shores of the Mekong River to take part in the Bang Fai Phaya Nark festival during which naga fireballs can be seen rising from the water along Thailand’s border with Laos.
The results of the investigations led scientists to conclude that a genuine giant serpent most likely does inhabit the tropical jungles of Southeast Asia.
One more Hindu deity commonly found around Angkor is the monkey god Hanuman. Mostly impressive depictions of him can be found at Banteay Samre. Certainly monkeys abound in the tropical forests of Cambodia, but another much more intriguing apelike creature is said to inhabit the region as well.
Legends of this mysterious creature in many ways seem to be almost identical to stories of Bigfoot in North America. The creature is between six and eight feet tall and give off a pungent odor, encounters with this jungle inhabitant have occurred with some frequency over the last 200 years.