Phnom Sampeou Mountain

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Definitely worth a visit, it’s about 15 km outside of Battambang city on the way to Pailin (Rt. 10). Since it’s closer to Battambang than Pailin, we’ll include it in this section, as it’s a trip that a lot of locals take from here. However, if you are going to Pailin just save it for a stop on the way. It’s easy to do if you have your own motorcycle; if not you can negotiate a bit higher price and have the share taxi stop there an extra 100 baht should do it, but don’t pay until you get to Pailin. Phnom Sampeu features an Angkor-era Baray-style pool; cave shrines with skulls and bones of Khmer Rouge victims and about seven hundred steps leading up to the main temple area, with its dynamite views.

The mountaintop temple was built in 1964 and is a mix of old and new styles. As you approach the top, take the dirt path that you will see forking off to the right. It leads to another hilltop temple area about 400 meters away. In the back of that, away from the view side, is a stairway leading down to a cave. Inside are some of the skulls and bones from this area’s killing fields. Locals have brought them up here and set up a couple of shrines in caves for the spirits of the victims in the hope that they can finally rest in peace. It’s another sobering place in Cambodia.

A bit further down is a cave with some small stalagmites and stalactites. Continuing the cave circuit, there is another cave area off from these areas that has a reclining Buddha and more skulls and bones nearby. It’s not a bad idea to bring a flashlight, although ladies working the temple have candles for a small donation.

The stairway and the areas on the top are packed with Cambodians on holidays as they make the pilgrimage with family and friends to see this mix of the old, new and a part of the tragedy of the Khmer Rouge era. Also easy to get to (I don’t mean to imply that the road is good), just head out of Battambang on the road to Pailin about 15 km. As you approach, you’ll see the mountain and temple at the top and think that you are going to run right into it.

The town next to the mountain has the same name. As you get into town you go by a school and small stands until you see a sign in Khmer and English (amazing) on the left for Phnom Sampeu. Turn left here and as you go toward the stairs you will note some bits of ruins on the left. Figure around 160 baht for the round trip moto-taxi.