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Travel Report: Phnom Sampeau, Battambang.

Phnom Sampeau Mountain 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.

Killing Caves Phnom Sampeau Battambang.

The Killing Cave Sculptures, Phnom Sampeau.

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.

Killing Caves Phnom Sampeau.

Phnom Sampeau, Battambang.

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 Killing Caves Battambang Cambodia.

The Killing Caves, Phnom Sampeau.

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.

The Killing Caves Battambang.

The Killing Caves, Phnom Sampeau.

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.

Battambang views from Phnom Sampeau

Views over rural Battambang from Phnom Sampeau.

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.

Phnom Sampeau in Battambang Cambodia

Rural views from the top of Phnom Sampeau.

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.

Phnom Sampeau bat cave Battambang province Cambodia

The Battambang Bat Cave, Phnom Sampeau.

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. 

The Battambang bats Cambodia.

The Battambang bats.

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.

Bats in flight Phnom Sampeau Battambang.

A whole lotta’ bats.

For more on my time here, check out my other articles on Battambang.

Like these? Then why not read about my adventures around Cambodia

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

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  • AndysWorldJourneys

    Battambang was my first stop in Cambodia way back in 2001! It’s progressed i can see, the statues are new. i remember spending lots of time on the back of a motorbike and also going on this little human powered trolley thing on the local fain tracks which was way cool.

    January 20, 2021 - 10:03 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Wow, I’m guessing Battambang must have been pretty ‘wild’ back in 2001. What an experience that must have been. The trolley vehicle you referred to is The Battambang Bamboo Train! I shall be publishing an article about that on Friday. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Much appreciated!

      January 20, 2021 - 10:06 am Reply
  • WanderingCanadians

    This looks like a neat place to explore. Sometimes it’s kind of nice to go somewhere that isn’t overrun with other tourists. Watching all those bats at sunset must have been such an incredible experience. I can’t say I’ve ever seen so many bats in my life before.

    January 20, 2021 - 1:12 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey guys, thanks for reading. It’s a really cool sight in a generally underrated part of Cambodia. I only wish I’d taken a few more and better photos.

      January 20, 2021 - 1:18 pm Reply
  • Little Miss Traveller

    Looks very interesting Leighton. Am yet to visit Cambodia so will follow with interest.

    January 20, 2021 - 3:19 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading Marion. I’ll be posting from Cambodia over the next weeks, with articles from Battambang, Sihanoukville, Koh Rong, Kampot and Kep.

      January 20, 2021 - 3:20 pm Reply
  • Lookoom

    It’s nice to report on these sites a little less visited, I actually skipped the Battambang area during my stay in Cambodia. Sadly, traces of the genocide perpetrated by the communists can be found elsewhere.

    January 21, 2021 - 1:40 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Indeed, it’s impossible to travel around Cambodia and not see at least a few of these sights. Very sobering.

      January 21, 2021 - 8:26 am Reply
  • Lyssy In The City

    Very interesting – you weren’t joking – that’s a whole lot of bats!

    January 21, 2021 - 2:23 am Reply
  • Rebecca

    Never been to Cambodia, and the massacres I learnt about in history class in high school were very glossed over…to see first-hand the sites where the horrors took place is definitely more-visceral, more-devastating than reading about it. I’m sure it must’ve been a humbling experience to visit the caves. Thanks for sharing and educating, Leighton.

    January 21, 2021 - 5:09 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Cambodia’s genocide sights are hugely depressing. This is an understated one in many ways. The two in Phnom Penh, to be published later this year, are much more intense. Thanks for reading.

      January 21, 2021 - 8:29 am Reply
  • yourtravelrecipes

    I’ve been to Cambodia but couldn’t get to this place. However my guide, Rechum, took me to a similar memorial outisde Siem Reap where the Pol Pot killing strategy was also performed and it was pretty impressive and heartbreaking…

    January 21, 2021 - 5:01 pm Reply

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