I wrote this post while sitting in a slow boat on my way to Siem Reap from Battambang. I got some funny looks from the other tourists around me for having my computer out but since the slow boat ride lasts for about seven hours I thought it to be a good time to write about Battambang.
Battambang, Cambodia is my kind of town. I could relax and settle in here. It has a relaxed feel and everyone is very friendly. We stayed at the Royal Hotel. It was a great little find and within walking distance to many good restaurants – one directly across the street.
Our first day was a rest day. That has be come a bit of a routine for us now. Travel days are just so exhausting. It is hot, we are crammed into a bus or two or three and driven across Cambodia at high speeds on roads with pedestrians, animals, tuk tuks, motorcycles, cars, trucks, semi-trucks and other passenger busses all the while the horn is being honked incessantly. The horn is not meant as an aggressive sound in Cambodia. It is more of a “here I am and here I come” notification.
There is a television at the front of the bus and it is playing (loudly) either violent movies (seems to be popular here) or Cambodian music videos. Cheating man and money hungry woman top the charts as to the main themes to the videos.
We stop for breaks at local eating establishments with less than sanitary conditions and have to use the wet toilet rooms with even less than sanitary conditions (the Cambodian men just go out in the bushes). I try to bring enough snacks but I end up starving by the end of the day. I also bring along my own toilet paper and zip lock baggie for used toilet paper because most people here us a “water shower” to clean off. I don’t because I really don’t understand how to do it and the water is not clean and I am just accustom to using toilet paper.
We finally arrive at our destination frazzled and try to arrange for a reasonably priced tuk tuk to wherever it is we are staying, eat, take a shower and crash for the night.
One good move we made was to pay for a local sim card for Al’s phone. It has been very helpful in avoiding being scammed by tuk tuk drivers wanting to charge too much. When we can tell them how far away it is we are going they can not bull-shit us too much. We also use it to call tuk tuk drivers we have liked to take us on additional outings.
Back to Battambang.
We stayed in Battambang for four nights. We arrived here late in the evening in the rain and took a short tuk tuk ride to our hotel. Yes, a hotel this time. The Royal Hotel to be exact and what a deal it was for us. One room, three beds and our own bathroom for $10 each a night, including breakfast. This one was a winner winner, chicken dinner! Clean room, quiet and a comfortable beds.
We initially had a problem with cigarrette smell coming into the room but we informed the front desk, they came up to see what was the problem and they fixed it by the afternoon. Turned out the smell was coming from the air conditioning. Ahhhh air conditioning….. how lovely. Have I mentioned that it is hot in Cambodia?
Actually, it was much cooler most of the time in Battambang. We had lots of cloud cover and had two afternoons of pouring rain which was a fantastic relief from the heat.
Battambang is the second largest city in Cambodia and turns out to be my favorite place so far. Though it is big it feels very relaxed and friendly. We are able to maneuver around town easily and there are plenty of sights to see. It is also less crowded with tourist.
Since we opted for a rest day and go a slower pace, we just hung out and relaxed catching up on computer work and organizing and editing photos. We had a lovely lunch at a place called The Lonely Tree. Eating here will cost a bit more but proceeds go to benefit charities and employment training programs. There are a good number of charity restaurants in Cambodia. We have to eat and it’s a good way to have our money help out some. We sat and watched the rain pour down which only helped serve to cement the idea that today was a rest day and so we lingered even longer in the comfortable atmosphere of this restaurant enjoying the cooled air from the rain.
Jose was feeling like happy hour so we did a bit of a pub crawl from Madison Corner to Delicious restaurant and finally arriving at Sunrise Cafe for dinner.
People watching was great at Madison Corner. There was a food stand across the street from us that had a booming business with the locals. People were pulling up on their motorcycles and scooters left and right and purchasing food to go. It appeared to be the best example of a Cambodian drive through fast food place that I have seen.
We were approached by an elderly man begging which is not uncommon. A lot of the beggers are missing a limp or two or three. Land minds and bombs are littered throughout the countryside compliments of our conflict with Vietnam. We try to keep smaller bills on hand and give when we can. Tonight was no exception as Al and I gave him some cash. He went over to the popular local food stand next door and had dinner. He wasn’t heading to the liquor store, he was actually begging for dinner. They are literally hand to mouth or at least it appears this way to me.
We then headed off to a restaurant named Delicious (not really so delicious but there was cheep $0.50 beer on tap for Jose). We sat down next to and struck up a conversation with a family from Germany, David, his wife (I’m sorry to say I can not remember her name) and their daughter Gwendalyne. We chatted with them for around an hour exchanging stories from the road, where we have been, where we are going, giving and receiving recommendations and then some. Turns out David knows a lot about traveling in India. When it comes time we will see if he can help us plan out that part of the trip. David likes to take pictures with everyone he meets around the world. You are welcome to follow him and see where he goes and who he meets.
After a great nights sleep we met our tuk tuk driver downstairs at the hotel at 9am for a full day of Wat (temple) visits and bat viewing.
Here’s a view of life in Cambodia as we traveled along:
We visiting Ek Phnom which is an Angkorian-era temple (hindu) behind the current local temple (buddhist), Wat Ek Phnom, next to a big buddha statue.
Ek Phnom, about 45 minutes from Battambang, is an substantial early-11th century Angkorian-era temple ruin built as a Hindu temple under the ruler Suryavarman I. The temple is in rough condition, consisting of prasats on a platform with some Hindu themed carvings in pretty good condition. Wat Ek Phnom, a modern Buddhist pagoda, sits picturesquely next to the ruin and a small lake. – From Capitol Tours Cambodia.
The new temple – Wat Ek Phnom:
The old temple- Ek Phnom:
The big Buddha:
Bamboo railroad – Basically a tourist trap. It’s a ride on a bamboo platform that they have somehow attached to train wheels with an engine. Click here for the interesting history.
We got up to a pretty good speed.
This is what happens when a cart from the other direction comes down the tracks:
Then we ended in a complete tourist trap. There was no way out! The driver’s were not going anywhere and the hordes of children selling bracelets surrounded me from all sides trying to grap my pinky and promise to buy from them. Here is one of my captures:
Sure, I could have been mad, sat on my bamboo train until it was time to go and give dirty looks at all the people who were part of the plan but instead I chose to (as Lily from France had been told) “open my heart and open my ATM”. Here are some my bracelets:
Then we headed off to see giant fruit bats hanging in trees. They are HUGE! I wish I had a video so you can hear them all squeaking.
Before our next way (temple) we stopped at the entrance for lunch at one of the many stands offering local food.
A visit to this Angkorian-era hilltop temple is usually undertaken as part of a day trip to several other sights, including Phnom Sampeou. Constructed in the 11th century, Wat Banan sits on top of a small mountain, or phnom, surrounded by rice fields. The crumbling temple is reached by what feels like an endless set of stairs, which finishes at a peaceful plateau where stand the ruins of the five towers of Wat Banan. Known as a “mini Angkor Wat,” Wat Banan has clearly been looted, but there are still many features in excellent condition. – From movingtocambodia.com
Our drive to the next temple closely resembled Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride from Disneyland. We were on a dirt road and it was wet, there were big pot holes and our driver did not slow down for them. He only swerved as close to the edge of the road as possible where on either side there was more water and rice fields.
The next temple on the tour was Wat Sampeou where we had to walk quite a ways up the mountain to it – about an hour. Technically we didn’t have to walk. We could have paid a motorcycle to race us up the hill but we needed the exercise so up we went.
We passed some killing caves from the Khmer rouge time and there is a temple here as well.
Wat Sampeou is home to a few monkeys.
As you can see from the last monkey picture, it’s a rough life. Nobody is taking this guy to the vet. He seems to have lost his lip somehow but was eating without any problem so hopefully it is more cosmetic and he won’t get an infection.
The view from Wat Sampeou:
At the end of the day we, along with hundreds of other tourists gathered at a base of a cave and waited for an hour until a stream of bats started pouring out of the cave opening.
Probably 50 at a time and they just kept coming for an hour. After a while we left and watched them fly across the rice fields in a swirling pattern towards the forest where they feasted on mosquitos and other bugs. It was really an amazing site to see the flying in this swirling formation. Very cool indeed.
Since we had a Big Bada-Bing Bada-Boom kind of day in Battambang the day before, we had another relaxing day after. I worked on my blog posts while Jose and Al did their thing. Then we went to see a circus performance but on by a local arts school.
Oh my goodness was it impressive. These kids must work their asses off. Acrobats, miming, acting, dancing, juggling, some type of modified yo yo thing, fire badones etc. It was an hour of my jaw being dropped. They were just amazing and I highly recommend going to the circus while in Battambang. No animals at all in this kind of show – perfect for me.
Speaking of animals… I met a little friend one day at lunch. She was the cutest little kitten with the biggest crutchety meow. She purred when I touched her and settled into my lap like it was the most natural thing. We gave her some of Jose’s donated chicken and she was one happy camper. We ate dinner there too (The Wood house) that same night and she curled up in my lap again.
Battambang is a for sure to see on a tour to Cambodia if for nothing else but the relaxed and friendly feel of it. Take a couple of days and relax and enjoy the expat scene or check out the central market. Take a day trip like we did to the temples and see the bats and maybe find yourself in a tourist trap and choose to go with it and enjoy. Then before you know it, Bada-Bing, Bada-Boom, Battambang!
The boat trip we took from Battambang to Siem Reap turned out to be rather eventful in the end. Check out Al’s post at Hikeral.com for the photos and details from the day. It’s worth a post in itself.
See you next at the great temples of Angkor!