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.
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.
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
…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."
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.
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.
…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.