Battambang Province

Phnom Sampeou means 'Ship mountain' because its peculiar shape reminds of a ship. This legendary 100 metres high mountain, topped by Wat Sampeou, contains 3 natural caves, lined with Buddhist shrines and statues: Pkasla, Lakhaon and Aksopheak. Pkasla cave is full of uprooted stones and is considered important because Sampeou inhabitants go there to celebrate after a marriage. Some caves were used by the Khmer Rouges as killing caves. Skeletons of their victims still remain in the caves. The wat is approached by a flight of 700 stairs. It is not exceptional but the view is spectacular. Next to Phnom Sampeou are several important mountain clusters.

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.

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.

Phnom 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.

It is most likely that you will be visiting Phnom Sampeou to explore the natural caves and grottos that have taken part in one of the most horrific genocides in human history.

Sampeou or Shhip Mountain

The ruins are on a very small hill so there is no workout involved in viewing them much of the temple is in shambles and was heavily looted. There are still some sitting Buddha images intact higher up on the walls. On the inside is a carving of a tug-of-war with participants tugging away on a serpent. The participants on the left have lost their heads to looters (they lost face), with the guys on the right still having their heads intact.

Ek Phnom is also easy to get to-just head north on the River Road (Road 1) a bit over 10 km (the road north of the Cobra Bridge snakes around a bit, but goes back to the river). As you are getting close to the temple, you will pass over a small concrete bridge. The road beyond will veer off to the right, but the modern temple is there to the left. Enter the new temple grounds and the ruins are located to the rear. Again, a round-trip moto-taxi is about 120 baht from Battambang.

Wat Ek Phnom an atmospheric, partly collapsed, 11th-century temple situated 11km north of Battambang, measures 52m by 49m and is surrounded by the remains of a laterite wall and an ancient baray (reservoir). A lintel showing the Churning of the Ocean of Milk can be seen above the east entrance to the central temple, whose upper flanks hold some fine bas-reliefs.

Construction of the giant Buddha statue next door has been stopped by the government because, they say, it mars the site's timeless beauty. This is a very popular picnic and pilgrimage destination for Khmers at festival times.

13km north of Battambang is Wat Ek Phnom, an impressive but extremely dilapidated temple situated next to a large pond and is behind a contemporary 28m high Buddha statue. Built during the 11th century, supposedly in 1029 under the reign of King Sorayak Varman II (1002-1050), today it has been mostly reduced to ruins and visitors have to climb over fallen masonry and huge blocks of stone in order to traverse the grounds. Because of this, and its tranquil setting, Wat Ek Phnom is a must for anyone visiting the Battambang area as it actually gives you the impression that you are discovering a forgotten temple.

Ek Phnom Temple

A norry or nori (from the French word for lorry) is an improvised rail vehicle from Cambodia. Lonely Planet describes it as "Cambodia's bamboo train".The trains run at speeds of up to 50 km/h (31 mph) on the metre gauge tracks around Battambang and Poipet. A scheduled service run by the Government also operates, but is slower at 30 km/h around 18 mph. The rest of the network, originally built by the French colonial government, is largely abandoned, after the Khmer Rouge regime effectively shut it down. In 2006 the BBC reported that there was only one scheduled service a week and it ran at not much more than walking pace. In October 2017 the bamboo train was no longer available in the original form due to the national effort to rebuild the rail line from the Thai-Cambodia border town Poipet to Phnom Penh. However, the bamboo train is being rebuilt near Wat Banan in order to cater to the local tourism industry. The relocated site is set to open in middle January 2018.

Bamboo Train Riding

On the road between Battambang and the temple of Phnom Banan you will find the only vineyards in Cambodia. The Phnom Banon Winery produce several thousand bottles of wines, brandy and fresh grape juice per year. If you are in Battambang visit the winery and take a stroll through the vineyard. You can also taste some of the produced wines or brandies for free. It is also possible to purchase bottles of Cambodian wine or brandy directly at the Prasat Phnom Banon Winery. Combine a visit of the winery with the Temple Wat Banan as it is nearby

Grape Farm in Battambang

About 11km outside of Battambang town centre is a mountain, home to the Killing Cave of Phnom Samphou, and the Bat Cave. the Killing Cave is about two-thirds of the way up the mountain, and still houses the remains of those killed there during the Khmer Rouge genocide. The Bat Cave offers an amazing spectacle at around 5 pm each day thousands and thousands of bats leave.

Bat Cave in Battambang

Barsaet Temple, Battambang is located in Barsaet Villlage, Tapoan commune, Sangke District, about 15 kilometers east of Battambang provincial town. The temple was built in the 11th century, between AD 1036 and 1042, during the region of King Suryavarman I (AD 1002-1050). This temple was seriously damaged, and only the door frame remains. Next to this temple, there is an ancient pond that is 20 meters long, 12 meters wide and 10 meters deep. It hold water year round.

Baset Temple - Battambang

Adapts the architecture of mid 11th century and the end of 12th century the temple was first built by king, Ut Tak Yea Tit Tya Varman II (1050-1066) and then was finally built by the king, Jarvarman VII (1181-1219). The temple is located on the top of approximate 400-meter heighten mountain at Kon Tey 2 commune, Ba Nan District in 25-kilometer distance from the provincial town by the provincial Road No 155 parallel to Sang Ke River. At the mountain's valley, there are Ku Teuk and two main natural wells, namely: Bit Meas and Chhung or Chhung Achey.

This Angkor-era mountaintop temple is definitely worth a look. At the top are beautiful views of the winding Sangker River set amidst sugar palm trees, rice fields and small villages. To the south you will see a mountain range that features a crocodile shaped mountain. The temple itself is beautiful looking from the ground as well as the top. The structures are pretty much intact, but unfortunately like so many Khmer ruins, they have fallen victim to massive looting. Still, there are some interesting works to see. There are five temple structures, like Angkor, with the middle being the largest. (Use caution around the entrance to the center structure-there is a large hanging block-a headache-in-waiting for some poor soul).

As with Preah Vihear Temple (close to the Thai border in the province of the same name), there are a couple of big guns on the mountaintop next to the ruins. The guns are still pointing down at the surrounding area as they were during the more recent years of the government-Khmer Rouge skirmishes.It's part of the sad irony of Cambodia that a place built for worship, harmony and tranquility was utilized as a place for making war. Looking down the hillside to the southwest you can see more of the ruins. As always, if you go looking around, STAY ON THE WORN PATHWAYS AND TRAILS- there may still be undiscovered landmines.

Phnom Banan - Battambang

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