The Killing Caves of Phnom Sampeau (also known as Phnom Sampov) are a place of beauty, turned tragedy, turned beauty once more.
The cave are located halfway up a mountain which is dotted with beautiful wats, statues, and lookout points over the village below. Macaque monkeys roam the mountainside, and millions of bats can be seen at dusk. Stairways snake up the mountain and back down again into limestone caves and canyons. One of these caves is the Killing Cave.
From 1975 to 1979, 1.7 million Cambodians were killed at the hands of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge soldiers. These are the bones of doctors, teachers, men, women and children who were killed by the Khmer Rouge at this site. At the top of the cave is the natural skylight which the Khmer Rouge marched people to, lining them up, then bludgeoning them and letting their bodies fall into the darkness below.
The site has now been turned into a memorial to those who lost their lives at this site. The descent into the cave is quite beautiful—the rock is covered in green vegetation and low-hanging vines. The cave is quite large inside, and a huge golden Buddha reclines in the center of the room. But at the bottom of the stairway sits a chicken-wire cage full of bones. The atrocities that took place in this beautiful spot suddenly become very present. To the right is another memorial of human remains, these encased in a glass box.
Today a mix of mostly Cambodian tourists mills around the cave, and people sing and take pictures. It is a surprisingly jovial atmosphere considering the horror of what took place. But as many Cambodians will explain to you, joy is the best way to move past tragedy.
Know Before You Go
A hill 7 miles (11 km) southwest of Battambang