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 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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
A man, a woman and their child walk into a 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 …