Travel Report: Phnom Chhngok Cave Temple, Kampot.
Phnom Chhngok Cave Temple, Kampot.
September 2020. Sladja and I had been holed up in our guesthouse room for the better part of a week when we started to become agitated. We needed to get out, stretch our legs and cross another sight off our Kampot to-do list.
Scanning our notes, I found my eyes settling on a 7th century Hindu cave temple out in the sticks, eight kilometres from the city centre. Buoyed by the prospect of a tuk tuk ride out into the country, we got back in touch with KKS Travel to arrange the transport.
Happily, we were picked up by San, a local Khmer man who’d so expertly taken us around Bokor National Park. Needless to say it was another horribly hot day, hence we were grateful for the cover as San steered us through increasingly bumpy country lanes. The landscape was lovely, a series of mushy rice paddy fields flashing by as we went.
On one particularly hairy dirt track road, San had to jump out to clear a couple of lounging cows. One of them eventually got up and mooched over to the grass. The other was in no mood whatsoever to move, thus we simply squeezed past her through a large pothole.
Phnom Chhngok Cave Temple, Kampot.
Pulling up to the temple entrance, we saw a quartet of local children come sprinting out of a nearby hut. We knew this was coming, as we’d read a few online articles about Phnom Chhngok Cave Temple’s impish guardians.
“This is cave temple!” cried their spokesman, a young boy dressed in a Liverpool football jersey and matching red shorts. “You pay this way” he called urgently, pointing us towards a middle aged man in a military uniform. Slouched nonchalantly over a plastic table, he accepted our two dollars and proceeded to roll a cigarette.
“Ok let’s go!” shrieked Liverpool as we set off up the 200-step temple staircase. There was no point in telling them that we didn’t require their services, they were clearly going to follow us around anyway.
“Temple very old!” came the enlightening commentary, as San let out a chuckle and a weary shake of the head. I guessed he’d seen this routine a hundred times.
Kampot Province, Cambodia.
It only takes a few minutes to reach the cave entrance. Halfway up there’s a rocky clearing with gorgeous views out across the province. “Is beautiful” said the youngest boy, making no attempt to disguise his boredom as he swung restlessly from the branches of a nearby tree.
At the cave entrance a further set of stone stairs leads down to the temple. You certainly have to be careful as you descend, as the steps are slippery from the dripping cave roof. Moreover, there are fallen leaves and twigs, in addition to bits of discarded litter. The place is not very well cared for.
Historians don’t know all that much about Phnom Chhngok Cave Temple. Yes, it’s pre-Angkorian, but they have no idea which king ordered its construction. The temple itself is tiny, made of Funan red brick.
The presence of a linga rock tells us that the temple was dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. This sacred, phallic symbol draws in plenty of Khmer couples who believe touching it will help them get pregnant. Furthermore, experts think the temple’s location within a cave represents a baby in the womb.
Phnom Chhngok Cave Temple, Kampot.
The temple is also famed for its animal-shaped rock formations. Liverpool and friends were keen to show us the giant elephant, located to the right side of the temple. Initially, I couldn’t see it. But then it began to take form, as I picked out the cracks in the rock that serve as its eye and half open mouth.
Another formation resembles an old turtle. Look to the far right of the below photo and that’s it’s head and eye, partially obscured by rambling twigs.
When it was time to go, the kids showed us an adventurous tunnel route that leads back down to ground level. Liverpool had even brought a torch and offered to lead the way. But the tunnel looked worryingly narrow, damp and grim, so we passed.
Phnom Chhngok Cave Temple is a low key Kampot sight, but well worth a stop in connection with other spots peppered around the Kampot countryside. Entry is cheap, the walk up is short but invigorating and the rock formations add a bit of quirk. What’s more, where else can you get your own team of bodyguards?
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Loved the pictures and write-up. Cambodia is in my travel list since long.
Hey Vivek, I can thoroughly recommend Cambodia. Kampot is much quieter than both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, but really worth a visit. Thanks for reading!
Another great post!
After reading this I’d like to add Kampot to my list of places to visit in Cambodia. The temple hidden in the cave is really interesting.
Thanks Marion! It’s an understated but fascinating spot.
Great write up..I like to find things off the beaten track ..as long as the track is not too beaten!
This track was a a touch beaten ha ha. But well worth the trip. Thanks for reading!
I’ve never heard of a cave temple before, how fascinating. This looks like quite the adventure even just to get to it!
Thanks, I think it was a great experience. Strangely, I read a lot of reviews saying it wasn’t worth the trip. Not much to see etc. glad I didn’t take those comments onboard!
Another great post 👍
Thanks for reading Jyothi!
I love cave Temples in Asia. I always think about how mysterious and fantastical it would have been in the day. The fact that this one is pre-Angkor so they don’t know much about it makes it more intriguing.
I agree yes! I saw a much more impressive cave temple in Vietnam, which reminds me I have to republish all those pieces at some point. Ha, no rest for the wicked. Thanks for reading!
Seeing animals in rock formations is a universal phenomenon and always interesting. Great use of the mini-me photo to give a sense of scale. And I thought the cow story was a wonderful piece of local color.
Looks like a wonderful place to visit, those tour guides start young! Haha.
I guess on some days it can be a lucrative business! Thanks for reading.
Ancient yet fascinating Leighton!
Thanks for reading!
Definitely an off-the-beaten-path kind of visit! The elephant and turtle stones remind me of similar names of the Reed Flute Cave that I explored in Guilin, China, where its stones gave rise to interesting shapes resembling fish and other species. Having children follow you around as “bodyguards” is a strange experience to be had, yet unique in its own way. The cave looks fascinating in its structure and history, and I can see how it’s a worthwhile trek over while in the area!
I also visited some caves in Guilin, but that name doesn’t ring a bell, I’ll have to check my records. Thanks for reading!
The cave temple was so interesting – appreciate your pointing out the elephant and turtle! The photo from the vehicle of the cow and man put us right there.
Thank you Ruth!
I experienced such bodyguards in a couple of excursions in Cambodia, if it’s fun to be accompanied by them and their four words of English, it’s sad to know that they are trained to beg tourists for money.
Yeah, we suspected the guy in the military uniform was the one who controlled their income.