Cambodia

Phnom Sampeau (Killing Caves)

Located 11km south west of Battambang, Phnom Sampeau is a place of stark contrasts and will leave you with a jumble of emotions.

It’s best known for it’s “killing caves”. Major atrocities occurred here during the Khmer Rouge regime in the mid to late 1970s. Victims were bludgeoned to death and then tossed into holes which served as the skylights to the caves. Men and women were placed in separate caves and clothes in another.

The cave is approached through a series of steps flanked by lush green vegetation. Within the cave itself is a golden peaceful looking reclining Buddha, right next to a glass cabinet containing bones and skulls of victims from the genocide.

It’s a difficult scene to resolve as you enter the cave. I think it’s almost impossible to come to any resolution when you’re in a place where hundreds of people were killed, and some of their remains are right there in front of you.

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The caves are set into the side of a saddle-backed hill with Buddhist temple complexes on both peaks. The temples offer some relief to the grisly recent history further down the hill, and it’s well worth the effort to walk to the summits to explore them further.

The prayer hall, once used by the Khmer Rouge to house prisoners, is wonderfully decorated and both temple complexes offer a stillness and time to reflect.

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Phnom Sampeau and the “killing caves” can be reached by Tuk Tuk from the town of Battambang.

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