OverviewIs this really a mountain?
Phnom Sampeou rises from the rice paddys of Southwestern Cambodia to a height of only 2500 feet, by my very generous estimate. So why should it have a page here? A few reasons:
First, Cambodia does not have a single mountain currently listed on Summitpost, despite the fact that Cambodia actually has some perfectly respectable mountains (including Phnom Aural, at 5,948 feet) set in some of the most ecologically unique settings on the planet. Maybe Phnom Sampeou is not the most interesting mountain in Cambodia, but it is a good start.
Second, everything is relative.
Third, what Phnom Sampeou lacks in elevation, it makes up for in history.
Located approximately 15 kilometers outside of Cambodia's second largest city , Battambang, Phnom Sampeou rests on the Northern end of the Dâmrei Mountains (literally "Elephant Mountains"), which fall into the Gulf of Thailand to the South and connect to the Krâvanh Mountains (literally "Cardamom Mountains") to the East. Phnom Sampeou is composed of limestone and dotted with caves, and was an important setting for battles between the Khmer Rouge and military forces in the 1980s. This legacy still marks the mountain in two ways: first is the aging anti-aircraft guns staged near the top, and second is the presence of human remains--a product of the Khmer Rouge's genodical campaigns--that can still be found in the caves in Phnom Sampeou. Not for the light-hearted, exactly, but memorable and important. Phnom Sampeou also houses two important Buddhist wats.
Getting ThereFrom Phnom Penh, travel to Battambang via car or bus, about 10 hours. From Siam Reap, it is possible to take a boat across the Tonle Sap lake and through various river channels to Battambang. From Battambang it is easy to rent or hire a moto (scooter) to drive you to Sampeou Village, at the base of Phnom Sampeou.
There are several routes up the mountain, starting from Sampeou Village. The easiest and most obvious starts with a stairway directly across the road (the only road) in Sampeou Village. Continue along the road and you will find a trail that looks slightly overgrown. Take this trail and you will find that it eventually grows to be totally overgrown. In a country that is still littered with land mines, overgrown trails are not the best idea. Continue down the road and you will find a wider dirt trail, which will wind around the back of the mountain before reaching the top.
Red TapeThere are no laws that I'm aware of that keep you from wandering anywhere that you would like on Phnom Sampeou, but keep two things in mind: first, there is still unexploded ordinance and there may be land mines on Phnom Sampeou. Do not go anywhere that does not look like it is frequently traveled. This includes the leftover gun placements, which may be booby-trapped. Second, show respect at the religious sites on top of the mountain and anywhere near areas with human remains, for obvious reasons.
The Caves of Phnom SampeouPhnom Sampeou is riddled with far more caves than you can possibly access without putting yourself in serious danger (see "red tape"). This becomes apparent at dusk, when millions--literally, millions--of small bats come bursting out of the mountain in several directions. They form a steady stream toward the countryside, where they spend the evening stuffing themselves with insects. In case this isn't obvious, you might want to leave the caves before dusk.
The bats are far from the scariest thing in the caves, however. The Khmer rouge executed thousands of people on Phnom Sampeou, and many were thrown through the roof of one of the caves and left to die in the cold and dark. One example of this can be found near the summit (any of the monks can show you, although the might want a donation). Some of the bones left in the cave can be found in a cage, others are piled near the walkway. Yikes.