So Tara sends me a msg asking if I'd like to do a bit of a bike ride out to see
Phnom Sampeau... Sure says I, full of confidence in my riding stamina after
a month of riding 5 - 10kms a day around good ole, FLAT ole Battambang for a
THEN I looked it up on Wiki and Trip Adviser - the phrase: " look BEFORE you
leap came to mind at this point.."
Only about 25kms there and back: OK, a challenge perhaps, but not a problem
thinks I... and then you reach Phnom Sampeau.
Now 'Phnom' means mountain. That should have been a clue right there...
It's a beautiful place, famous for the nightly flight of millions of bats from thei
cave - and that should have been the 2nd clue; cave=rocks=MOUNTAIN...
The flight begins..
This is a truly staggering spectacle. The bats start leaving their cave just as the
sun begins to set. They undulate across the sky in a silent, orchestrated and
seemingly endless wave for an hour or more, which did make us wonder what
the floor of that cave must look, and smell, like...
Along the entire route up this solitary, limestone lump-in-the-otherwise-flat-
countryside, there are grottoes, temples, shrines, golden statues of monks,
as well as the obligatory temple monkeys, and a large Reclining Buddha.
|Nat, Claire, Phil & Louise - the people, not the monks,|
although the monk in the middle looks like a Phil..
There are 2 rusty old artillery emplacements that the Khmae & their erstwhile
allies the Vietnamese, used in their long fight against the guerrilla forces of the
Khmer Rouge through the 1970s & '80s. One of them has markings in Russian,
the other in German, and there's clue #3 right there; artillery emplacements
generally require a comprehensive view of the enemy=HIGH PLACE...)
|Russian artillery emplacement on Phnom Sampeau|
Armed with all this information, it apparently STILL didn't occur to the logical
and, as it turns out masochistic, part of my brain, that this might be just a tad
As it turned out, Nat, Phil, Louise and Claire had already been on a day-long
cycle to another Wat and were pretty shagged, so Tara suggested we all drive out
there instead of riding. A decision, I'm not ashamed to say, that I could have
kissed her for after we reached the summit.
There are two choices for the climb. Either braving the very long, very steep &
very uneven flights of steps or taking the 'easier' (by which I mean slightly less
grueling), wide, paved road which winds round and round the mountain.
So, puffing like Thomas the Tank Engine, with sweat pouring from my entire body
like my own, personal waterfall & eliciting concerned looks from Nat & Claire who
are both nurses, I was thinking about every one of those occasions I'd chosen
to drive somewhere instead of walking and every cigarette I'd ever had by the
time we were halfway to the top! What on earth possessed me to think this totally
unfit old body could scale a mountain - yes mountain! Believe me, it may as well
have been Everest, except for the steaming temperature...
|Nat- Medical Coordinator Extraordinaire|
But I did make it, and it was well worththe effort, even if walking was just awee bit painful today...What a spectacular view of the landaround Battambang.
|Tara, Claire & Nat at the Top|
We rested at the top for a while, just
admiring the view, before heading back
down in time to catch the great Bat Show
from the road far, far below...
Sadly, as in so many places throughout
the Khmae countryside, it also houses
yet another monument to the countless
victims of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge who
were brought here to be slaughtered -
The Killing Caves... A tragic history for
such a beautiful place.
|Monument in The Killing Caves of Phnom Sampeau|
The Khmae people have suffered so
much and they have such a long way to
go to rebuild their amazing and ancient
culture, it's a privilege to have even a
small role to play.