Our bus dropped us way out of town in Battambang (pronounced Battam-bong) leaving us with only one option… Motorbike taxis. We were in a deserted area with no shops or people besides the dozens of men trying to get us to get on their bikes. Luckily, unlike the big cities in South East Asia, Battambang is pretty tame and the ride was safe enough – at least in Cambodian terms.
We checked into our “standard double room” for £9 a night – it has a balcony, a king size bed, a TV, a wardrobe, a spacious bathroom – all for just £1 more than the 20 bed dorm room we stayed in, in Phnom Penh the night before. In the hostels we’ve been staying in, the way it works is dorm rooms are charged a rate per bed but private rooms are charged per room, so often a double room can work out as cheap.
After stretching out and relaxing after our cramped 7 hour bus journey we decided to treat ourselves to a restaurant dinner. We had 2 traditional Khmer meals, including the Cambodian dish fish amok (a fish curry served in banana leaves) and a mango shake all for $7. It was the best food we’ve eaten in a while. So good in fact, we booked to do their cooking class the next day.
The cooking class was really great. When we arrived a big French school group pulled up but thankfully we were kept separate from them. We joined an Italian couple and an Australian girl for our lesson. We were taken on a tour of the market which was rather stomach turning. As we were lead round the cramped market where locals make their living, we witnessed a series of gruesome sights including live fish in baskets still flapping, fishes being bashed, chickens in cages next to dead skinned chickens and roasted insects. Less gross, we also saw fresh coconut milk get made – which we later used in our cooking.
We made 4 dishes: Fish amok (fish curry similar to green Thai) steamed and served in banana leaves, tofu lok lak (usually made with beef, served with salad, rice and a fried egg) and spring rolls. For dessert we made a traditional dish containing banana, tapioca and coconut milk.
We spent the afternoon enjoying the scenery. Battambang is a riverside town with natural beauty. We enjoyed a mango shake and iced coffee from HOC (Hope of Children) cafe – HOC is an NGO established in 1992 aiming to support children affected by family violence and AIDs. By buying from the cafe we got to be a small part of that. Being out here and witnessing third world issues first hand truly affects you, and it made us want to be a part of making a change. (Cliche I know, but true.)
One thing we have witnessed is that in Cambodia they do have petrol stations but nearly all roadside shops or stalls will sell petrol. They store it in glass Pepsi bottles which they then funnel into the tank. Locals will fill up their tanks from these vendors. Very bizarre.
In the evening, we got a tuk tuk driver, probably the most hilarious man we’ve come across in SEA to drive us to the Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS) Battambang Circus. PPS is a non-profit Cambodian association working with vulnerable children, young adults and their families through Arts schools, Social support and Educational programs. The entry fee of $14 is a little steep, especially for budget travellers, but the cause is a great one and the show was fantastic.
We spent the next day seeing the tourist attractions of Battambang with the crazy tuk tuk driver we met the night before. We joined 2 girls from Singapore and went to visit a number of different tourist things.
We went on the bamboo train. The “train” consists of bamboo carriages powered by a motor. It is a straight track, with traffic flowing in both directions. This means that when the carriages meet head on, one group has to get off while the drivers lift the carriage off the tracks until the other carriage passes. This was a fun experience but the village at the other end of the tracks was full of young children selling bracelets. They work here, hassling tourists, with phrases like “you buy from me only”, instead of going to school because of the money they can earn. It’s a real shame, the kids have become extremely business minded but they’re not getting a real education.
After the train, we went to an ‘ancient house’, a typical Cambodian house built 100 years ago. It is opened to the public to look around. A woman told us the history behind the house and explained a traditional method of dental care involving tobacco.
We visited (yet another) pagoda; Cambodia is a predominantly Buddhist country and the pagodas are built to worship Buddha. Our driver also explained that there is Chinese Buddhism where people are buried and put in a cemetery and Khmer (Cambodian) Buddhism where people are cremated are put inside small stupas. We saw both of these memorials on the pagoda grounds.
Liv and I “splashed out” on an upmarket restaurant meal for lunch at Jaan Bai (highly rated on trip-advisor – our bible). We had shrimp and tofu pad Thai and peppered tofu rice salad.
Afterwards, we met back up with our driver who took us to the mountain where the bat cave is. The heavens opened and the rain poured so we couldn’t get up to see the temple – instead we took shelter in a bar and drank beer, as per usual. At 6pm we ventured out to the roadside to watch all the bats fly out, on mass, of their cave. The bats come out in a constant stream and this continues for roughly 45 minutes.
This was where things started to get awkward. After a great day, we agreed to go for a drink with Thean, our tuk tuk driver. We bought him a beer as a gesture to thank him for such an entertaining trip. However, he had an obvious crush on Liv that got really awkward real fast. After an embarrassing proposition and a difficult conversation we tried make a hasty escape. We parted ways, escaping the extremely uncomfortable situation and returned to the safety of our hotel room.
Exhausted after a really enjoyable day we hit they hay.
Goodbye Battambang, hello Siem Reap.