Another day trip and this was more of an adventure. Firstly I missed the turn off about 3 times then I finally found the dirt track that would lead me to visiting the underworld.
I saw on the map a Pogoda and dropped in there first. It was a real proper locals temple, quiet, peaceful, dusty, and setup for individual offerings, the monks would do their thing in the evening. It probably hadn’t seen a tourist in a long long while.
As I drove onwards I saw a sign for “Pre-Historic” caves – hmm I thought could there be Dinosaurs?
The advice to hire a guide is a good one. Yes you can go look at the cave entrance but clambering onwards you’re likely to get lost, stuck and in rainy season you could well stumble into a water pool in the darkness, plus they looked after my bike while inside.
The Khmer Rouge had dynamited the religious site but since then the locals had rebuilt as much as they could, a resemblance of the temple that once was, with the original bricks they could gather. So my guide along with at least five local kids all went further into the caves, they had all done this many times before, they were skipping over the rocks and along the wobbly bamboo bridges while I was gingerly making my way in sandals, as they giggled at me. I was hoping I wasn’t going to twist an ankle as there’s no rescue services there.
The main entrance isn’t that impressive but my guide Kim pointed to large gap, one that you have to duck and sort of clamber through, I was hesitant, I’m not the most agile and imagined me getting stuck in a narrow passage way and the kids having to pull my arms to drag me through.
But no, the place opened up into cathedral sized chambers with bamboo bridges to get over the worst bits. I was impressed.
Various rock formations were pointed out and I had to guess the animal, I got the first one right- Elephant, but when he pointed out the head, the trunk, the body as a side on view I had seen it totally different as a head on view with two big ears trunk. Kim thought I was a bit crazy, I could see it in his expression. I also guessed the number of years the stalactite and stalagmite would take to come together – a 1000 years a good round number, which I bet is not entirely accurate.
The Khmer Rouge also set off explosives inside the cave to try and collapse it inwards – but it only dislodge a big rock which stuck way above our heads and created a sort of roof.
Phnom Chngok Temple Caves
Further up the dirt track was the second more famous cave temple, this had the temple remain intact during the Khmer Rouge regime. It also had a much more difficult climbing experience.
I hired a guide again didn’t get his name but he had a piddly little wind up torch, mine was much better. We had to climb around 200 steps to the entrance and it was a hot day, at the top I saw the little temple which housed the stone covered in orange, it’s been around since before Angkor Wat about 900 years – It’s a big deal to them but I’ve been in pubs in England that are as old.
Similarly the temple was in the entrance a bit more cave to see but without the guide that would have been it before descending the steps again, but I was shown a smaller hole and offered to climb through! After doing the first set of caves I was up for it but this was a whole lot different.
The climbing was much more difficult for me, sliding down a few feet of rock and having to catch a foot hold at the bottom in my sandals!! duck here, climb up there, the guide was great he had the flimsiest of flip flops and demonstrated how to slide down the rock faces, he’d clamber back up and slide down again when I didn’t catch it, It’s easy he said. hmm. There was no cathedral sized interior spaces this time, it was a gradual descent passing various dubious “animal”rock formations over, under and across bridges to exit close to the base of the 200 steps. By the time we emerged from this underworld I was muddy hot sweaty and wet, but I felt a whole lot better for it and considered it a great physical representation of the figurative belly of the whale I’d also been going through.