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Phnom Sampeau/Cambodia

Introducing Phnom Sampeau

At the summit of this fabled limestone outcrop, 12km southwest of Battambang along NH57 (towards Pailin), a complex of temples affords gorgeous views. Beware of the macaques that live around the summit, dining on bananas left as offerings, as some can be bad-tempered and aggressive. Access is via a steep staircase or, past the eateries, a cement road.

As you descend from the golden stupa at the summit, turn left under the gate decorated with a bas-relief of Eiy Sei (an elderly Buddha). A deep canyon, its vertical sides cloaked in greenery, descends steeply through a natural arch to a ‘lost world’ of stalactites, creeping vines and bats; two Angkorian warriors stand guard.

In the area between the two sets of antennas, two government artillery pieces, one with markings in Russian, the other in German, are still deployed. They point westwards towards Phnom Krapeu (Crocodile Mountain), a one-time Khmer Rouge stronghold.

About halfway up the hill, a road leads under a gate and 250m up to the Killing Caves of Phnom Sampeau, now a place of pilgrimage. An enchanted staircase, flanked by greenery, leads into a cavern where a golden reclining Buddha lies peacefully next to a glass-walled memorial filled with the bones and skulls of some of the people bludgeoned to death by Khmer Rouge cadres before being thrown through the overhead skylight. Next to the base of the stairway is the old memorial, a rusty cage made of chicken wire and cyclone fencing and partly filled with human bones.

At the base of the hill, a 30m-high Buddha is being carved out of the cliff face. Due to a lack of funds, only the top of the Buddha’s head has been liberated from the natural rock outcrop.