Battambang

Tag: Cambodia, Destinations   Type:
July 1, 2011   No Comments

Battambang is Cambodia’s second biggest city, a bustling town with crumbling colonial French architecture and smattering of restaurants but no big-hitting attraction. So, what do you do there and is it worth a visit?

 Battambang

Some pretty colonial-era buildings in Battambang.

The Reception

Before going through the things we got up to in Battambang, it’s worth mentioning the extraordinary reception we received as our bus pulled into town, with us the only tourists onboard. The second the door opened, a horde of hungry, hugely lively and pushy men – all shouting at us simultaneously – virtually sucked us out of the bus and tore us limb from limb. We looked around confused, dazed, searching for salvation and some sort of place to hide as they all encircled us. They offered us a free tuk tuk to anywhere in town while shoving guest-house info down our throats. We’ve never had anything so in-your-face and desperate in any city in South East Asia before or after Battambang. Anyhow…we picked one and got a free tuk tuk to the place we had in mind. The same tuk tuk driver was our man for the trips we did (see below) while the others went back to preying on the next bus, desperate for a job.

The Bamboo Train

The Bamboo ‘train’ is a flat bamboo platform placed on two steel axles with a converted small engine at the back. It holds 2 passengers and 1 driver. There are no sides, no seats, no seat belts – nothing to stop you hurtling through the air if the train derails – a constant worry as you whizz along the track being smacked from below every time the rails join.

See the video to taste the experience and see what happens when 2 trains meet!

End of the track

At the end of the track we were greeted by a lady who had a little drinks stall. We were asked if we’d kindly like to buy our driver a drink? Err…ok. The lady’s children were very sweet, making bamboo leaf jewellery for Carly and an intricate insect for Ben. They learn their English from the tourists and are primed from an early age in the art of extracting money from them too. They then led us to a working brick factory, with a hard-working production line where big wet clumps of clay are chopped out of a pile and squeezed into a machine, bricks cut, dusted and stored, ready to be baked.

 Battambang

Brick factory building, end of the Bamboo train line.

 Battambang

The kids at the end of the Bamboo train line - in one of the buildings of the brick factory.

After another little sit down with the kids, with one happily snapping away on Ben’s camera, with Ben looking on worriedly, we got back on the train. We gave a small tip to the children and the lady told us we should also tip our driver – after buying him a drink and paying for a ticket for the train! We didn’t.

The Condom

After another hair-raising ride back we thankfully got into our tuk-tuk but his ancient Chinese engine wouldn’t start. A crowd of men materialised as our driver got out his tools and starting fiddling with the engine. A big laugh was had when one of the chaps pointed out a condom hidden away in his tool kit…the poor man sweated away fixing the engine as we stood around him in a circle with jokes whizzing back and forth and a few belly-laughs – no language barriers there!

 Battambang

Colourful petrol station in Battambang.

One Very Good Reason

Tuk tuk working again, we headed through the flat landscape of Cambodia, riding through authentic villages and communities, which was the first time we felt we’d seen the ‘real’ Cambodia since arriving. This is one very good reason to head to Battambang.

We visited the other two major sites of interest hidden in the countryside surrounding Battambang:

  • The Killing Cave near Battambang

    On top of an imposing hill are a collection of temples and a cave. The cave was used by the Khmer Rouge to murder people and currently displays a moving monument to the victims – a glass cabinet filled with skulls and bones. Small triangles of fabric are strung up everywhere like streamers at a summer fete – the fabric came from the victims’ clothes. The Khmer Rouge marched people up to the top of the hill, killed them before bundling them down into the depths of the cave.

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    The hill where the killing cave is. A number of temples and shrines are scattered across the peak.

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    The view from the top...

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    The memorial cabinet in the killing cave with just some of the victims' bones piled up.

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    Our guide effortlessly skipping back down the steps.

  • Wat Banon

    Wat Banon is an attractive temple mountain in the vein of the temples of Angkor and dates from a similar period (this one is from the 10th century). Having just come from Angkor, it was hard not to get blasé about yet another temple but Wat Banon was worth the visit. Perched on a hill, you climb up the steep and never-ending steps. You’re rewarded with a small temple on the plateau at the top showcasing classic Angkor architecture. On the ground amongst the ancient rubble is a beautifully carved stone that just teases you to the former glories of this sacred ground.

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    Climbing up the endless steps at Wat Banon.

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    The temples of Wat Banon.

Battambang Summary

We were pleased we visited Battambang and its environs and in many respects it served up a microcosm of Cambodia – humbling ancient temples that record a people’s very significant former glories; pretty colonial-era buildings serving up good food and cocktails; the inescapable Khmer Rouge atrocities that affected every Cambodian born before 1979; the people shaped by this history going about their business in the bustling markets and communities, friendly, smiling, and moving onwards on rusty-scooters carrying improbable weight and bulk.

 Battambang

Typically resourceful - this lop-sided bike looks lightweight to some of the overloaded vehicles that are common in SE Asia



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