Travel Report: Phnom Sampeau, Battambang.
Phnom Sampeau, Battambang.
December 2015. The picturesque province of Battambang in Cambodia doesn’t seem to get much tourist love. It’s a real pity, as the region is home to two of the country’s most fascinating sights. One of these is Phnom Sampeau, a limestone mountain 12 kilometres outside Battambang City.
It’s a steep forty five minute walk up to the top and there are wonderful views of the surrounding countryside along the way. Be warned, it’s quite a workout getting to the summit. Hence many people grab a motorbike taxi directly to the mountain’s upper walking trails. Expect to pay around $4 for the privilege.
About halfway up, a side road leads you under a gate into the site of the mountain’s grisly Killing Caves. In the mid to late 1970s, Cambodian dictator Pol Pot and his army set about mercilessly slaughtering scores of civilians.
It was part of their plan to transform Cambodia into a communist, agricultural state. Many of Battambang’s murders took place here, in the caves of Phnom Sampeau.
These terrifying sculptures mark the entrance to the caves, leaving visitors in no doubt that what they’re about to see isn’t for the fainthearted.
Basically, The Khmer Rouge saw all educated people as a threat. As a result, teachers, students, doctors, artists and even monks were gathered up and killed.
Phnom Sampeau, Battambang.
The executions that happened here were horrific. Firstly, the Khmer Rouge stabbed and bludgeoned their victims to death. They then disposed of the bodies by dropping them through the skylights of the Phnom Sampeau caves.
A few of these caves now stand as memorials. Just take a deep breath and head down the staircase under the low hanging branches.
Like Phnom Sampeau itself, the caves are beautiful, in stark contrast to the awful acts that took place here. Inside, people pay their respects with a silent prayer in front of a glass exhibit that houses victims’ bones. It certainly left a lump in my throat.
After the horror of The Killing Caves, I continued on foot to Phnom Sampeau’s highest viewpoint. The panoramic is breathtaking and definitely helped clear my mind of the horrors of the caves.
Among the vast expanse of farmer’s fields, look out for a former Khmer Rouge stronghold called Crocodile Mountain. Moreover, there are several stilted temples nestled in the dense woodland.
The Battambang Bat Cave.
There’s another famous cave to seek out on Phnom Sampeau. But fear not, this sight isn’t connected to Cambodia’s genocide years.
At the foot of the mountain, every evening at sunset, a crowd of people gather to gaze up at a large cave cut into the side of the hill. This is where around five million bats pour out into the evening sky every night!
It really is an incredible sight, the bats gushing out in a thick column of flapping wings and spooky squeals. The sheer scale of Phnom Sampeau’s bat extravaganza can be hard to comprehend, with the mass exodus taking over forty minutes to complete.
This daily ritual sees the looping line of bats head off to Tonlé Sap Lake. There, they feast on mosquitos for a couple of hours before returning home. Without a doubt one of the most wondrous things I’ve seen in over twenty years of world travel.
For more on my time here, check out my other articles on Battambang.
Like these? Then why not read about my adventures around Cambodia.
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