Day 61-63: Battambang, Cambodia

Battambang, Cambodia is about 3 1/2 hours drive from Siem Reap and is the third biggest city in the country, with almost 190,000 people at last count. As with Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, a river runs through Battambang.

Paul had read about Battambang in the guidebook and wanted to visit. We were all pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed our three days there.

A walk around Battambang

The Bat Dambong statue in Battambang.

The city was name after the legend of Bat Dambong. Our tuktuk guide took us to the Bat Dambong statue, which is at a big roundabout. It is iconic to the city and to cut a long story short, locals worship this man-turned-god because apparently when people pray to him, their wishes come true. There was an offering of a whole spit-roast pig when we were there.

There are plenty of examples of French colonial and traditional Chinese shopfront-style architecture in Battambang, and there’s a good walking tour you can do using this map. Paul saw it all but halfway through, the heat and humidity got to Elina and I and we went to Nature Boutique Spa and got massages instead. (We definitely got the spa treatment: they serves us cold drinks and fruit before our treatment, and a warm drink and sweet treat afterwards.)

Please note: we never went to a single KFC while in SE Asia! (However … one McDonalds and one Burger King)
Many of the temples in this area were built during Thai (Ayutthaya) rule and so incorporate Thai Buddhist architecture.
This Chinese temple has existed in this location for more than 150 years and has undergone several renovations.

Bamboo Train

A few kilometres outside of the city centre is the “bamboo train”. Since most of the country’s rail network isn’t yet up and running, locals have been enterprising: they use the rails to run little rail trolleys with bamboo platforms on them to transport goods locally. This has turned into a tourist attraction complete with souvenir stalls at one stop about 10km out of town.

We got there pretty early and didn’t know what to expect. But we paid the fee and got on board. You sit on a mat and the only thing separating you and the fast-moving rail tracks underneath are these bamboo slats.

Elina capturing the moment for Instagram.

OK so with only one set of tracks, what do you do when someone is heading straight for you? Well, both trains stop and I think the etiquette is the one with the least passengers has to give way. So we had to hop off while these two lady drivers (one was driving the other train too) dismantled our train, placed it to one side to let the other train pass, and then put ours back together again. Brilliant. But then you realise how vulnerable you are to accidents.

Tiny spicy clams

After taking us to the bamboo train, our tuktuk guide/driver asked if we wanted to try some tiny spicy clams. Elina and I declined but Paul was up for it and he bought a small bagful. You have to open them up with your teeth. Salty and spicy, Paul said.

How rice paper is made

I’m sure everyone’s had rice paper rolls, either fresh or deep fried. We saw how a mom and pop operation makes rice paper rolls from scratch.

First, you dip your ceramic bowl into what looks like a liquid rice paste, then you smear in into a circle on a cloth stretched over the low heat of burning rice husks.
After a few seconds, the rice paper solidifies and you carefully peel it off with a very thin bamboo tool and place it on this rotating rod. Another person then takes it off the rod and places it on the drying rack.
And here’s the process on video.
Here’s the front of the little rice paper roll shop. We ate both fresh and deep fried — both were delicious!

Crocodile farm

Our guide/driver also took us to a crocodile farm managed by his sister (so we got in for half price). It’s quite a lucrative trade, selling the skins and meat to China and Thailand, even thought it takes years for a crocodile to grow to the right size. We’d been to a crocodile farm in Darwin, Australia, a few years back and knew how big crocs can be. But first, the baby crocs.

Yep, Elina’s turning into Bindi Irwin.
After handling the baby crocs, we went to the pens where the adults were…
YIPES! You wouldn’t want to fall. Believe me, I didn’t even want Elina to be walking above these dinosaurs and told her to hang on tight to those rails.

Phnom Sampeau

We also went to  Phnom Sampeau, a little village about 12km from Battambang to see the “bat cave”, the “killing cave” and a stunning view from the hill above the caves. We also discovered there was a Buddhist temple at the top, but before that, we came across this grisly scene.

This is a depiction of Buddhist “hell”. The scenes make Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings seem tame in comparison.
The golden Buddha at the top of the hill.

Killing cave

Around the corner from the Buddha statue is the Killing Cave, where the Khmer Rouge tortued people then threw the bodies down the dark hole of the cave to finish them off.

The stairs down to the cave.
Memorial: ordinary men, women and children died under the Khmer Rouge’s brutal regime.

Amazing view

It was dry season so everything was a bit brown, but it was still a fantastic vista.
I zoomed in on the temple in the earlier photo.

Temple monkeys

Cute macaques as we went up to see two temples a bit further down from the Killing Cave.
Mum keeps a watchful eye on her bubba.

Two temples

These two temples were also at the top of the hill.

Just below the temples, these kids were playing with empty water bottles … I felt more than a little guilty being a tourist. I think the proliferation of plastic bottles and plastic in general, and garbage, are the biggest problems in Asia (and for that matter the world) right now.

Release the bats

The informational sign says the bats are essential in getting rid of pests that eat farmers’ crops, and so they need to be protected and respected.
Couldn’t believe how many tourists, including us, were waiting for dusk to watch the bats. There were viewing chairs and beers and snacks aplenty on offer.
Including these barbecued chilli snails.
And they’re off!
The smell from the cave was incredibly smelly! I mean really, really smelly.
The bats look like a swarm of birds. Here they are flying off into the sunset.

Typical wooden Khmer house

On another day, we visited a “typical” Khmer house. It’s owned by a family who has opened it up for the public. The lady who did the guided tour of the house said her aunt owned the house but has now passed away. She and her parents and siblings were scattered across Cambodia during Pol Pot’s reign of terror. Some family members eventually made it back to the house, while others did not. She said the Khmer Rouge used their house and damaged parts of it.

Incredibly, this instrument wasn’t destroyed by the Khmer Rouge.
Vessels for rain water. These girls were playing with fish in one of them.
Paul had a go at the manual rice threshing machine.
All the way down to the banks of this part of the river, you can see rubbish everywhere. It was really sad to see.

A man, a woman and their child walk into a bar…

… and played pool. And the woman and child won a game against the man 🙂
Had a really nice veg burger and chips here, overlooking the river.
A lovely view from the bar.

Au revoir, Battambang

And that was our last evening in Battambang. We thought it was a great place to visit for three days even though it was 38C and 90 per cent humidity. The French guy who worked at the bar where we played pool said people should visit during the wet season (low season), which is from May to October, as “wet” actually means an afternoon downpour but much more bearable temperatures. Ah, well, next time …