Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Story Why the Town/Province Was Name Siem Reap

By Kenneth So

There is a story why the town/province was name Siem Reap.

Siem Reap was named so during the time of the Khmer King Ang Chan I (1516-1555). The brother-in-law of King Srey Sokonthor Bat (Brother of Prince Ang Chan I) named Kân usurped the throne by killing the king after he was elevated from a slave status to the rank of nobility.

After Kân took control of the country he proclaimed himself king or Sdach Kân. Prince Ang Chan had to flee Cambodia and took refuge in Thailand. After gathering his strength Prince Ang Chan asked permission from the Thai King to return to Cambodia to fight the usurper Kân but the Thai king refused to grant him permission.

One day the Thai king heard of a white elephant roaming in the forest and wanted to capture the elephant. Because of its rarity, the white elephant was believed to bring luck and prosperity to whoever possess it. Ceasing on this occasion, Prince Ang Chan volunteered to lead the hunt for the white elephant. The Thai king agreed and offered 500 soldiers to accompany the Khmer prince for the hunt of the white elephant. The objective of the prince was not to hunt the white elephant but rather to return to Cambodia to fight the usurper Kân. Once the prince entered Cambodia he started to raise an army to fight the usurper Kân.

Finally, after many battles, King Ang Chan (He was invited by his officers and members of his royal family to accept the title of King in 1516) conquered Kân’s army and had him killed. After the war, the king of Siam wanted the Khmer monarch to pay tribute to the Siam kingdom. He demanded that King Ang Chan send the magnificent white elephant that he possessed as a tribute to Siam. King Ang Chan refused to obey because to do so would put Cambodia into a vassal state of Siam. Upon hearing King Ang Chan’s refusal, the Siam king decided to teach the new Khmer king a lesson.

Sensing that Cambodia was weakened after the exhausting civil war against Kân, the Siam king sent his fresh army to invade Angkor. King Ang Chan hastily recruited Khmer volunteers, who were very enthusiastic to fight the invading Siam army. At Angkor, the Khmer army thoroughly defeated the Siam army and took 10,000 prisoners. From that time on, the village at Angkor was called Siem Reap, which meant Flattened Siamese or Defeated Siamese.


When I visited Angkor Wat in 2007, I was told by Khmer people that the Thais argued with Khmers on the meaning of Siem Reap. They said it meant "Thais building things" as "Siem Reab Chhom." You see how they twisted the meaning of our town/province.

Siem Reap was named so during the time of Ang Chan I. After Sdach Kân took control of the country, Ang Chan had to flee Cambodia and took refuge in Thailand. Many times Ang Chan wanted to come back to Cambodia to fight Sdach Kân but the Thai king refused to give him permission to leave Thailand. In order to leave Thailand Ang Chan had to trick the Thai king. He volunteered to capture the white elephant as a gift to be presented to the Thai king. Once Ang Chan entered Cambodia he started to raise an army to fight Sdach Kân. He finally defeated and killed Sdach Kân. After his victory the Thai king asked Ang Chan to pay tribute to him but Ang Chan refused. The Thai king got mad and wanted to teach Ang Chan a lesson. The Thai king attacked Ang Chan at Angkor but instead of defeating the Khmer king it was Ang Chan who had the upper hand and destroyed the Thai army. The Thais returned to Thailand in defeat and shame. It's from that time on that the place was called Siem Reap.


I just purchased the book "The Khmers: History and Treasures of an Ancient Civilization" that was published by your company White Star. I would like to pinpoint a mistake in the Introduction on page 12 when it said "Siem Reap" meant "Conquered by Siam." The author of the text is mistaken in his translation of these words because it means completely the opposite. It literally means "Flattened Siam" and not "Conquered by Siam." The word Siem means Siam and the word Reap means to flatten in Cambodian. "Siem Reap" in Cambodian means the "Siam was flattened or conquered."

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