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Cave Hunting Again

by Tara

We've been to several caves on this trip, and we're still in search of that elusive, hard-to-get-to, natural wonder to explore. I'm thinking maybe we need to take up spelunking if we really want a remote cave experience. Even the "out of the way" ones our guidebook writes about, the kind where you need to bring your own flashlight, have been easily accessible letdowns.

Oour morning meal is a disappointing one, as many of the "western" dishes here seem to be. Remembering the old adage to "do as the Romans do", we choke down a mealy breakfast of dry, butterless, pancakes served with a tablespoon or two of sickly sweet chocolate sauce.

It's probably best to stick to our Cambodian staples of unidentifiable meat soup, or fried noodles with gloopy day-glo orange hot sauce first thing in the morning. The world of buttery fried hotcakes and delicious maple syrup will have to wait just a few more months.

After breakfast, we cycle fifteen kilometers out of Battambang; the late morning sun shines brightly, making it uncomfortably hot and sticky. We've worn our cotton shirts from Sun instead of our merino wool. The difference is shocking, and it takes us some time to realize what is going on

At first, we thought it must be 100°F or more – instead of a comforting breeze running through our clothing, keeping us cool, our bodies are caked in smelly, sweat soaked cotton. The morning isn't a total loss, as Cambodia's continual barrage of awesome scenery just keeps on giving.

Cambodian Cyclists & Monk on Dirt Road Green Coconuts Cambodian Kitty

Ignoring the urge to return home and change, we continue on our mission. We're cave hunting again, and this time, we're in search of Phnom Sampeau hill and the series of dark, mysterious grottos located within.

Arriving at the site, we hire a cute kid to be our guide, as we're told the hills around these parts are mined, and its caves are difficult to locate. As much as we'd love to go gallivanting around off the beaten path, landmines are nothing to trifle with. We'd like to keep our limbs intact, so guide it is.

Once our tour begins with a huffing and puffingly steep ascent, we're so glad we decided to hire the little boy. He's friendly and talkative, keeping our mind off the hike and the heat by chattering constantly to us in remarkably good English.

Sokhem with Flowers Behind his Ears

As he frolicks around, picking flowers to stick in his hair, he teaches us some Khmer words, and tells us all about his English school. He also serenades us with his bird call, and repeatedly sings "I Know You Want Me", by Pitbull

Tyler & Sokhem Doing Bird Calls

…a song he should probably not know the lyrics to!

Our guide Sokhem turns out to be the highlight of our visit. With his expert help, we find our way to the elusive "caves."

Sokhem Showing Us the Way to the Cave

The main attraction is the Killing Cave, where Khmer Rouge soldiers mercilessly threw people in from above. The victims would plummet horribly to their deaths, leaving an ever-growing pile of bodies crushed on the floor of the grotto.

Painting of Khmer Rouge Killing Cave Khmer Rouge Victims' Bones in Killing Cave

The other cave on our tour, the "wind cave," is supposed to be dark and deep. Cute little kids try to rent us flashlights for the excursion, but we've come prepared with our own headlamps. It turns out that we don't need them anyway: it takes thirty seconds to descend one concrete staircase, walk across the cave, and climb a second staircase. All the while, daylight streams right in.

Killing Cave in Phnom Sampeau

…and that is it.

Sokhem wants to lead us back down the hill, but we're not quite through yet. Isn't there something in our book about a deep cave that you can climb through in the dark for about fifteen minutes, emerging on the other side of the hill? Where is that cave? We pay our sweet kid for his time and send him merrily on his way. Then, we get down to the business of cave-hunting.

We ask around and we follow the directions in our book, but we can't find it, and nobody seems to know what we we're trying to do. Finally a man points us in the right direction, in a small section of carved-out rock which can hardly be called a cave. We walk in, climb over a few rocks, and emerge into the daylight about five feet later.

Thus ends our "fifteen minute walk through the mountain."

Thwarted again! We need to find some good caves, or at least take up spelunking.



I'm always disappointed with caves! They're just never as good as you want them to be (except perhaps for in New Zealand). Vietnam does have some good ones along Ha Long Bay, and there are nice ones too around Vang Vien in Laos where you can go tubing. Just don't do the Perfume Pagoda outside of Hanoi, what a lame cave!
Posted by Magalie on December 23rd, 2010 at 11:25 AM
You should make a slight detour to Buchan Caves in Victoria, Australia! I have high cave expectations because I visited these caves several times in my childhood. I always do a google images search before I visit caves to see if they come up to Buchan standards -- not a one yet.
Posted by Katherine on December 30th, 2010 at 2:05 PM
Magalie - Thank you! Duly noted!

Katherine - We might just have to visit Buchan caves one day. But we'll wait 'till you guys are home so we can all go together. :-)

For a NON-lame cave, check out this INSANE underground world that was only just explored for the first time about a year ago. A huge thanks to reader, Erich, for sending us the link.

It's not too far away from where we are, and Tyler is currently trying to see if we can join in on some sort of expedition!
Posted by Tara on January 5th, 2011 at 11:04 AM
That might be the coolest cave ever! Amazing. I wish I had known about it while we were in Vietnam... we were right there! Well, sort off...

We're heading to the 7km cave in Kong Lo, Laos in a few days, we'll let you know if it's worth the detour!
Posted by Magalie on January 6th, 2011 at 5:47 AM
Aha! Another thing we can use to temp you two to come visit Oregon. We have the Oregon Caves national monument and it's pretty amazing. Unfortunately amateur spelunkers can only do the guided tour, but even that is out of this world. They even found the dessicated remains of a south american jaguar in the cave several years ago. (That's a long trip on foot!)
One of the neat tricks they do on the tour is take you far enough that the external light can no longer reach you, then they flip the switch and you get you experience true darkness for a few moments.
Posted by Kirby on January 14th, 2011 at 9:32 AM
That sounds awesome, Kirby! Thanks for letting us know. We'll have to add it to our to-visit list. :)
Posted by Tara on January 18th, 2011 at 7:09 AM
I was a spelunker back in my youth and had some amazing caving experiences in NSW which have totally spoilt me for tourist caves. but I'm still a sucker for a good light show and spotting weird formations that look like dinosaurs.
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