Hello, Battambang

Trip Start Mar 03, 2010
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25
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Trip End May 02, 2010


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Monday, April 5, 2010

It was a rather nice 5 hour bus trip from Phnom Pehn to Battambang, Cambodia's second largest city.  Entertainment was provided by non stop Khmer Karakoke videos and a toilet break in a field.  Sexy times.  Only westerner on there too, which is preferable.  The locals were ace, telling me to not get off at the first stop that they say is Battambang - it's a bit of a scam to get you to use tuk tuks as its the furthest stop from the city.  Stay onboard and get off when the locals do.

I'm not sure what I made of Battambang.  It's not a huge place, and by contrast with Phnom Pehn there is little in way of things to do in the town itself.  There is the standard market / food area; a lot of Mobile phone stores and a River which was being dug up at the time of visiting.  However, taking a quick tour of the backstreets yet again delivers the goods - lots of tiny family stores selling some seriously yummy bread, kids thrashing me at football (was hot, and I'm fat) and the surreal experience of watching Tom and Jerry with local toddlers, on a large projection on a house.

To be honest, I didn't do much in Battambang that isn't firmly on anyone's to do list whilst in the area.  Managed to get a tuk tuk for a day with a fantastic driver (called himself Bernie).  I basically told him to show me the local area.  So he did.

First stop was on the Norri, or Bamboo Train.  The one railway line in Cambodia goes from Phnom Pehn to Battambang, and only has one 'proper' train on it.  It's very, very slow so the locals have made their own trains.  Take some Bamboo, turn it into a mat like a Magic Carpet.  Add two sets of wheels.  On the back, stick on an outboard motor.  Done.

They are then used to transport everything that can fit.  Since there is only one track (which is very bent, out of shape and rickety), when separate trains meet each other, those with the least onboard jump off, take the train off the tracks and let the other one pass.  Saw all sorts on the Bamboo - everything from wood to livestock to a stinky tourist guy called Darren.  The Norri took me about 15km to a small village, where I chatted with the owner of the only place to buy a drink.  Through the universal language of pointing, smiling and assumption, we talked about our respective families and lives - why had I come to their country? What was mine like? Is it cold?  One of the daughters taught English in the local school and we had a great talk about life in the Village, and life back in Kent.  We each preferred each others lives :-)

Back with Bernie, we went to Wat Baydamram, a small temple, to look at the thousands of Fruit Bats that live in the trees there.  We got talking about eating them, he said they weren't too nice.  Asked him if he ate Snake - he explained that people eat Cobra in Cambodia, but it's more for status than for taste.  I asked him about eating Pythons instead, which he referred to as "Giant Snake!!".  He looked disgusted at the idea and said they frighten him.  Far too big apparently!

From there it was to Wat Banan, apparently called the "mini Angkor".  Up the top of 350 knackering steep steps, they are overgrown and dilapidated Angkor Wat style ruins.  Some local kids accompanied me the whole way, literally pushing and pulling me up most of the stairs.  At the top I sat down and shared out my yummy sugar breads with the kids.  They seemed to like it, which is good. 

From there we drove through stunning countryside of fruits, chillis and cotton, alongside slow lazy rivers and past colourful and loud wedding celebrations. I got to hang out with these wicked little local kids when I was taking in the view of a riverside plantation, High 5 really is the universal sign of awesomess.  Their grins are just so fantastic.  They really do make the highlights of anyones travels. We went to Phnom Sampeu, home to some of the Killing Caves of the Khmer Rouge, where they threw victims to their deaths.  At the top of the hill (which I got to on the back of a motorbike for $2) are two large stupas and a couple of old Government Guns facing the only other hill to be seen - which was a Khmer Rouge stronghold just a few years ago.  Everything else was totally flat - and brown.  The dry season was at its end at the time of my visit, and the rains seemed to always be just on the horizon.  Literally a week after I left, the place was green again.


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