Friday, January 16, 2009


After being in Phnom Penh for a week it was time to take a break to Battambang in the North West of Cambodia. The Lonely Planet says it is the second largest city and that it has some excellent collonial architecture....

The journey began with (as ever) a painful bus journey. The bus stopped every hour or so that the Khmers on board could eat some more. This was accompanied by Khmer Karaoke. On the way we stopped to pick up a load of peoplesat under a tree. About 35 people more piled on board - Their bus had obviously broken down. At least I hadn't chosen the earlier bus!

About 6 hours after departure Battambang came into sight and the bus journey was made worthwhile as La Villa proved to be an exellent accommodation option! The house is a 1930s villa that has been restored beautifully.

The following day Mr Mo and his tuk tuk was the preferred transport option to visit 3 of the "sights" of the city - The Killing Caves, Ek Phnom and the Bamboo train. The caves were first and this involved a journey along one of the National HIghways towards the city of Pailin where the Khmer Rouge still hang out. The road was appalling - dust everywhere. I was pleased I packed my Krama (Khmer scarf) which by the end of the day was thick with red dust. The greenery along the way was brown from dust rather than lush and green! A wedding was taking place by the roadside and they had hosed down the section of the road alongside it so the dust did not ruin the dinner. The road was also full of bumps and dips....

The National Highway

Wat Phnom Sampeau was a base for the Khmer Rouge. They murdered many of their victims here in the "killing caves". The tuk tuk pulled in and hassles were surprisingly minimum at the base of the hill. The Tourist Police were on form though. A larger than average guy asked us to write our names in his book and pay im $2. We paid. I wasn't sure if it was a scam - he had a properly printed sign and the book so..... [the Rough Guide later confirmed there is a charge so maybe it is an official charge!] The policeman asked us if we "wanted a small boy". Presumably to show us the way*? We declined the small boy and started the ascent up the steep concrete path. Perhaps we should have taken up the offer of the small boy as we almost missed the turning to the Wat but a small girl on the back of her father's moto on her way home from school shouted "Bot Chwen[turn left]" as she speeded past and we were back on track!

The view and the Wat

The Wat was fairly typical but the views over the countryside were beautiful. Even without the small boy we managed to find 2 caves - including the larger cave that has a large hole in its rooftop where terrifyingly the Khmer Rouge used to push its victims to their death on the rocks of the cave below. Bones of some of the victims are also on display.

There was plenty of opportunity to hand over your cash - Including for a "new way" and also a new buddha statue on the hill. Perhaps some tourists missed the massive gold buddha that is already on the hill?

Clearly "The International Organisation for Victim Assistance USA " could not resist having their name on one of the many walls full of donors names - so they gave $10!!

After the dusty journey back the bamboo train awaited. Train travel in Cambodia is practically non existent. 1 train carries cargo from PP to Battambang once a week and it takes 20 hours. When the passenger service operates it takes about 12 hours. There is no danger therefore of being flattened by a high speed train if you are on the tracks. The Khmers have therefore invented the Bamboo Train. This is basically a bamboo fence panel placed on a metal frame plus 4 train wheels. Add a motorbike engine and off you whizz down the train tracks (practically scarping your chin along the floor) on your illegal personal train. This transports people, animals, bikes from the rice fields in a cheap way! It also makes for a great touristy thing to do. If you meet someone coming the otherway one of the trains has to be dismantled to let the other past!

First we stopped at this old abandoned Train Station for petrol then zoom....! The track was so badly twisted. The track came apart so many times the wheels would just have to fly over the cracks - with no slowing down. The track was also on many different levels - massive bangs and jolts were all part of the experience! Over bridges

We met this other Bamboo train - they took theirs apart. The track - not exactly Network Rail standards!

About 10km down the track we turned the train around to go back again! We met a Cambodian guy who liked to think he had lived in London - SW7 to be precise. The people who really do live at 37 Queen Charlotte Street, Kensington should be aware that there is an old Cambodian guy out there using their address to lure tourists into buying beer!

On the way back we were followed by another train carrying sacks of rice.

Next stop was Ek Phnom -An 11th Century temple. The countryside on the way there was nice - all the kids shouting "Hello - What is your name..." It was a shame that the rice had already been harvested and so the countryside was brown and straw-like rather than lush and green. Again the Tourist Police were on guard and so I tried some of my (virtually nil) Khmer language skills. I tried out some of the basics on one of the kids hanging about with him. This caused him to give me a history on the temple in Khmer.... Ummmm. I nodded enthusiastically! The temple and the modern Wat were nice enough but the monk/temple photo opportunity was a highlight!

Ahhh the Photo opportunity!

The modern Wat

Lotus fields surrounding the pagodas and the brown/green countryside

On the way Mr Mo took us to see rie paper being made. It wasn't even obligatory to buy something!!!!

1 comment:

Phil said...

Great post, Battambang is top of my list to spend some time in when I get back to Cambodia, looking for a chilled place rather than the mentalness of PP etc.. The bamboo train looks awesome too.