Posted by: rob | August 6, 2007

Sleepy Battambang

We spent a hot couple of days in Battambang, Cambodia (pronounced Battam-bom). Although it’s the country’s second largest city, you wouldn’t know it from the size. It’s just a few sleepy streets with sleepy restaurants, sleepy dogs, and sleepy tuk-tuk drivers. Oh, and oodles of linen-clad French tourists, now that August is upon us. After the epic travel of recent days, we decided to splurge on a private car and driver for the four hour drive ($48) and it was worth every cent. We liked the town immediately, for it’s riverside charm, it’s laidback atmosphere, and the fact that it was super cheap. (We stayed in the best hotel in town, newly built with all the mod-cons, for a princely sum of $13/night!).

Battambang is also a town not without quirks. There are many ice cream sundae cafes, as if the local teenage girls are reliving 1950s America. And all over town are incredibly badly painted advertising signs. Many have bad likenesses of English football stars, we presumed the signs entice you into cafes to have a drink while watching the bootleg satellite coverage of European football. (Kim has photos of these, but we are now seeing such a rush of sights and sounds that it’s not always possible to keep up as you can see from the poor pics today). Eventually we came upon the store making all these signs, where we spotted a kid and his dad with some plywood, stencils, and spraycans. Add all this to the three by three grid of streets and at times it looked like the set from an old western. Finally, the house next to our hotel had a shiny sign “MJP – Maddox Jolie Pitt”which seemed a little odd at the time, but we’ve since discovered this is the humanitarian project Ms Tomb Raider set up.

On the second day we hired a motorbike driver to show us the sights around and outside town (5 hours, $8). I wouldn’t have thought it, but the three of us on a small bike travelling over bumpy red dirt roads was excellent fun. Kim has some fun videos that she might get a chance to upload. We drove around the orchards outside Battambang, stopping at family farms to check out weird and wonderful fruits, at a monk’s compound to look at zillions of bats, by the side of random roads to marvel at “baby snakefish”(??), and after 25km at Wat Banan, a 9th century temple atop a huge hill. (stairs pictured below). But the highlight was undoubtedly the Norry, or Bamboo Train, that I’ll write a separate post about.

Like most people in Cambodia, our moto rider Dara had led an interesting life. Now aged 45 years, he had fled the Khmer Rouge in 1982 for Thailand and didn’t return for 11 years. He threw us nuggets of information about his time in “The Hard War”. For example, he showed us how he used to forage on the ground for food after watching what cows did and didn’t eat.

We left Battambang for Siem Reap also by private car. But halfway, at Sisophon, the road wet diabolically bad. Two or more hours of some of the worst road conditions in the world. It didn’t help that before we left the driver stopped and picked up 400 cans of beer. Thankfully he was delivering them to Siem Reap, not drinking them en route. We’re now in Siem Reap for a few days to visit the temples of Angkor.


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