Battambang, The Killing Caves & Floating Villages

Trip Start Jan 14, 2012
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Trip End Jan 30, 2012


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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Once on the Cambodian ground, old emotions entered my body. When you travel to the places where poverty is a common thing, all sorts of emotions might flash through your body - anger, sadness, frustration, compassion, pity, just to name few of them, and you will have to develop the best way to cope with reality and those emotions. It's not nice. It's not pretty. It's really sad that in the XXI century, there are still millions of people who have no idea where the next meal come from...if it comes.

Cambodia
is a mix, extremes. This is a country that try to develop itself after the war they've been through but the long-term development of the economy after decades of war remains a daunting challenge. If you don't have a system that support that kind of development, people will tend to do whatever works - even if that means lie, steel, pocketing money, corruption. And Cambodia is very high on the list of countries where corruption is a king. Well, just next to the King as Cambodia still have a royal family.

There are no slums in Cambodia, not that I am aware of, but there is that feeling that people still struggle. And yet, there are also the most beautiful houses, hotels, temples, I have ever seen. When you only go to Siem Reap or Phnom Penh, you might never see ‘the whole picture’. But when you step aside, go to the places less traveled, there is so much more to see, particularly in the poverty-ridden countryside, which suffers from an almost total lack of basic infrastructure.

The economy
is growing in Cambodia, mostly on textiles and tourism. People do educate themselves but there are still many who never gone to school and lack productive skills. More than 60% are in the village, farming or/and fishing.

The government is trying to do something, like building new roads, asking for donors, giving more freedom (tax) to foreigners investments, letting more tourists to visit the country and charging tourists triple or even more than the locals.

Battambang
is the second biggest town of Cambodia. Small by Western standard. Not much to do in the town, just to sit and observe Cambodian life. And there is so much to take in! Everything is in walking distance, except few temples (Phnom Banan, Ek Phnom), bamboo train and the killing caves. Much of the architecture is French colonial and traditional Cambodian, houses on the high pillars. People are usually nice and helpful and fluent in dollars. They know that they can charge tourists, and they will. With a nice smile. English is widely spoken in towns, not that much in the villages.

We arrived at the Asia Hotel and after checking out the room and some hard negotiating from $20 to $14, we went to sleep in the king size bed, in the king size room after having shower in the king size bathroom. It didn’t feel right! There was something wrong with this picture, especially after hours of traveling in the poverty-ridden countryside. Next morning we went to the reception desk asking for cheaper and smaller rooms. The guy smile and took me to a different part of the hotel. He showed me a room, basic, plain, with fun (no AC) for $5! We took it.

Day One.

After getting a new room, having a good breakfast and getting our tickets for a boat ride to Siem Reap, we went to visit the Killing Caves, just outside the city. The weather was perfect, a bit sunny but nice. We hired a tuk tuk driver and after negotiating the payment of $5 (the hotel wanted $10...shop around in Cambodia!) we went for 40 minutes ride. The countryside around Battambang is very nice, green, pretty and quiet. Every mile or so down the road the shopkeepers sell petrol in ‘soft drinks bottles’, people farm or lay down in their hammocks, or play cards and chit chat to neighbors. Nice and lazy. It seems that almost every house has got a motorcycle and hammock.

The Killing Caves.
At the entrance to the caves we got the ticket ($2/each) and climbed the steps up to the mountains for about 15-20 minutes. Some people take motorcycle to get to the top but the climbing is nice, easy and very rewarding. Temples, statue of golden Buddha, and the caves. The shadow of the atrocities done here by the Khmer Rouge is still painful. The victims were dropped from a hole at the top of the cave to their death, on the stone floor below. The man who was sitting in the cave and giving away (for donation) the red threads, told us that 10 thousands of people died here. Who knows the number? Some say that during the Khmer Rouge civil war there were 1.7 million people who died, some say, 3 millions. Too many, whatever the number is. And, as it is in many beautiful places in Cambodia, the peaceful, lovely natural wonder is overtaken by the clouds of crimes, deaths, inhuman behavior.

Day Two
The boat ride!
The most amazing trip, one of the most beautiful things we have done in Cambodia! 7 hours of sitting on the roof (well, 4 hours for me and I got so red that for a day or two I had to take it easy); observing people living on the Sangker River; admiring the beauty of 'unspoiled' rural Cambodia; smiling to children who go to floating schools on their little boats; taking pictures of many floating villages; little floating temples, mosques, churches; learning about the work on the rice paddies and reading. It was safe, picturesque, wonderful 7 hours journey!

When we arrived in Siem Reap we got tuk-tuk to a center of the town ($4), had a nice dinner and started to look for a hotel. After checking 3 or 4 hotels in the center, we have chosen a very nice hotel with beautiful garden, run by Irish man. Ron and his wonderful English manners, the way he runs the hotel, the way he treats his guests...all that made our stay so much more enjoyable in Siem Reap!

Stay
- Asia Hotel
, centrally located, 1dbl/AC/king size/breakfast/$20; 1dbl/fun/simple and clean/$5-7
Street Lar A, Preakmohatep Village, Battambang City
www.asrhotel.com.kh

Eat

- Mercy House, Vegetarian Food, just opposite Asia Hotel, fantastic food!

Tickets

- Bus Poipet-Battambang - $10
- Boat Battambang-Siem Reap - $20 (6-8 hours, 7 hours our trip)
- Bus Battambang - Siem Reap - $5 (3 hours)
- tuk-tuk Battambang-the Killing Caves - $5-$10
- tuk-tuk Battambang-Temples-Bamboo train-the Killing Caves - $10-$15

Useful links

http://wikitravel.org/en/Cambodia

Reading:
- 'First they killed my father - a daughter of Cambodia remembers' by Loung Ung
- 'Lucky child - a daughter of Cambodia reunites with the sister she left behind' by Loung Ung
- 'Stay Alive, My Son' by Pin Yathay
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