Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Former ‘killing caves’ become a sobering tourist destination

Former ‘killing caves’ become a sobering tourist destination

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Located in Battambang province’s Banan district along National Road 57, Phnom Sampov consists of many mountain caves attracting tourists from around the world. But their natural beauty today contrasts with their grim history as Khmer Rouge-era ‘killing caves’. Yousos Apdoul Rashim

Former ‘killing caves’ become a sobering tourist destination

Phnom Sampov consists of many mountain caves attracting tourists from around the world. But their natural beauty today contrasts with their grim history as Khmer Rouge-era “killing caves”.

Among them is Pka Sla cave, Chest Pounding cave and the Bat cave, where thousands were killed under the Pol Pot regime, with the bones of victims today kept in a glass stupa for display.

Guide Soung Sitha accompanies visitors to the historic caves, starting with Laang Teng Kloun (Beautified Room Cave) where he points to a case displaying the clothes of victims: “Here we keep victims’ remains, especially clothes worn by people under the Pol Pot regime. They were well-educated people.”

Leaving Laang Teng Kloun and visiting nearby Laang Lkoun, visitors are greeted by a large golden Buddha reclining next to a stupa full of bones, while a picture depicting victims being thrown from a cliff down into the dark abyss below, as occurred in the cave during the Khmer Rouge era, sits on the wall.

Grade 5 student Sok Sonita serves as an amateur local guide for children. She takes time from her studies to tell tourists about the history of the caves.

“I can speak a little English and can tell foreigners about the killing and bludgeoning. This was the place they [Pol Pot’s comrades] hit people from above and let them fall. They were well-educated people. I earn irregular money as some days I get a very small amount or nothing, and some days I earn $10,” she said.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
At Laang Lkoun, visitors see a large golden Buddha reclining in the centre of the cave next to a stupa full of bones. The entire complex is comprised of 12 caves that can be explored. Hong Menea

Phnom Sampov, 12km west of Battambang, is also the locale for a Homeric Khmer legend in which the machinations of a sentient crocodile were foiled by the stroke of a maiden’s hair.

Mok Sinnara, Battambang provincial tourism department’s former director, told The Post: “The legend goes that Sampov mountain was formed when prince Reach Kol’s sailing junk, carrying dowry in order to marry princess Romsay Sok, was immersed by her crocodile named Athun and became Sailing mountain.

“The dowry was littered around and became Chicken Cage mountain, Duck Cage mountain and the location where princess Romsay Sok stroked her hair became Romsay Sok mountain. Moreover, when the water went down, Athun’s body became Crocodile mountain.

“Here at Sampov mountain, where the Romsay Sok temple sits, there are many caves. We think that the Beautified Room Cave is where Romsay Sok dressed up and waited for the prince Reach Kol.”

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The entire complex is comprised of 12 caves that can be explored. Hong Menea

But today, it is survivors of the Khmer Rouge era that visit the caves to pay their respects.

“A few months ago, survivors visited the homeland and conducted a Buddhism ceremony to offer deeds for dead people. They cried remembering the things that happened to them,” said Sitha, who is among four guides who work at Sampov mountain.

Sitha estimates that some 10,000 victims were killed around the mountain, with trucks full of bones transported to museum.

The caves are located at the peak of Phnom Sampov, in Phnom Sampov commune, Banan district along National Road 57. The entire complex is comprised of 12 caves that can be explored.

Watch video:

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia armed with money laundering laws

    Money laundering will now carry a penalty of up to five years in prison while those convicted of financing terrorists will be jailed for up to 20 years, according to new laws promulgated by King Norodom Sihamoni and seen by The Post on Thursday. Comprising nine

  • Schools to be reopened in ‘three stages’

    With guidance from Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, is in the process of reopening schools in three stages. But no timeline has been set, ministry spokesperson Ros Soveacha said on Thursday. Soveacha said the first stage will be to

  • Thai border crossings eased

    The Cambodian Embassy in Thailand said in an announcement on Wednesday that Thailand’s government has allowed certain passengers from several countries to enter its borders. The visitors must go back to their country immediately after their duties in Thailand are fulfilled, the embassy said.

  • Gov’t says tourism recovers slightly despite pandemic

    The Ministry of Tourism and the Phnom Penh municipal administration have recognised 33 tourism businesses in the capital which have consistently implemented safety measures for tourists and adhered to the code of conduct issued by the ministry. Recently, the ministry announced that tourism businesses had to

  • Mull ASEAN border opening, PM urges

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has requested that ASEAN launch a scenario for gradually reopening cross-border travel and trade between countries in the region. He said ASEAN has had more success combating Covid-19 compared to other regions. The prime minister’s request was made at the

  • Ministry reports 11 new Covid-19 cases, reiterates vigilance

    Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng has urged people to continue practising virus prevention techniques after 11 people tested positive for Covid-19 within two days after arriving in the Kingdom. Speaking on Sunday, Bun Heng stressed the importance of washing hands, wearing masks or scarves when

  • Koh Rong land ‘belongs to firm’

    Preah Sihanouk Provincial Administration spokesperson Kheang Phearum told The Post on Sunday that the 35ha being bulldozed by Royal Group Co Ltd in Koh Rong belongs to it after it was leased to it for 99 years by the government in 2008. Phearum said the land does

  • Nine on Indonesia flight Covid-19 positive

    The Ministry of Health on Saturday confirmed nine more imported cases of Covid-19. The nine ‒ eight Cambodians and one Indonesian, aged 22 to 26 ‒ arrived in Cambodia on Thursday via a direct flight from Indonesia and are receiving treatment at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hostipal in Phnom Penh.

  • Kingdom’s financial sector healthy

    Cambodia's financial sector remains on a sustainable growth path despite the Covid-19 pandemic squeezing crucial industries, National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) governor Chea Chanto said. Tourism, garments and footwear have borne the brunt of the Covid-19 impact, he said, whereas the financial and agriculture sectors

  • Vietnam told to remove border tents

    Kandal provincial governor Kong Sophoan has ordered local authorities to prohibit the construction of buildings in areas bordering Cambodia and to report any irregularities immediately. Recently, Vietnamese officials removed another seven tents from the border area with Cambodia. His remarks were made on Wednesday afternoon