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Published: January 29th 2018
Incidentally, Battambang was named, but mis-pronounced by the French, it is actually Bat/dam/bong, which is something to do with their mystical ruler, who was black and had a magical stick, whose name was Ta Dumbong, anyway read it up!
We are not won over by our hotel's lack of cleanliness. The Manager and Staff (currently family run by local Khmer) are friendly but have very poor English. This morning we breakfast outside our room. The food is adequate, however, the setting is very enjoyable and lifts our spirits. Our Tuk Tuk driver, who's name is Oeurm (sounds like Ian), arrives promptly at 10 am
as agreed. He is a local Khmer who's Father survived the Pol Pot genocide regime because he was a Carpenter, and basically the Khmer Rouge kept him alive to knock down priceless religious buildings and use the timbers to build basic cover for the enforced labour force. He lost an Uncle and all the relatives on that side of his family, because the old man refused to move home in spite of the insistence of the Khmer Rouge. Yet another sad story, to add to thousands we have heard.
Moving along, we have a full
day planned, the agreed price is USD20. Before we head off to the tourist sites, Oeurm takes us on a slow ride around Bat Dam Bong, and as a local man, he is proud to showcase the crumbling French architecture, crying out for restoration, Italian designed Governor's house and an important Peace Monument called Naga, commemorating the commitment, efforts and hopes of the Cambodian People, breaking away from their violent past, financed by the Japanese People. This statue is made up from hundreds of AK 47 rifles captured from the Khmer Rouge and is very thought-provoking.
We move on, taking rural dirt roads through small villages along the Sangke River, again we are impressed by how clean these villages are compared with those in the South. The city is extremely proud of it's 'clean' image. The people, and especially the children all smile and wave as we pass, shouting 'Hello' with great enthusiasm. Proceeding, we see that along the banks of the river, there are neat abundant crops of all types of vegetables and fruits, including our favorite Asian dish of Morning Glory, fed by the plentiful river. We impress ourselves by shuffling halfway across a local steel wire
suspension bridge which was high and rickety. We are feeling super brave, given our mutual fear of heights and all things bridges. We further discover this region specialises in mushroom growing, grown in plastic tubes! (See photo). We learn that a kilo of Garangal (root ginger) sells at Market for 500 riel per kilo (8 cents/ 6pence) whereas cabbages are 100 riel per kilo (less than 1p) and ripe beautiful cauliflowers about the same. A vegetarians delight!
Along the way we see a local lady showcasing her barbecue food, glistening, orange, meat on sticks - jungle rat! We don't stop to buy. Further along, we decide to visit the only Winery here. We wouldn't usually visit these tourist traps but Paula is desperate to find some good wine at reasonable cost, big mistake, they wanted USD2.5 just for at taste then USD15 per bottle. We were getting fairly good New World wines in PhNom Penh for USD8. We decline, and go to our first proper site, the NEW Bamboo Railway. This used to be on the main rail line but as that is being redeveloped to take passengers and freight through as far as Bangkok, it was closed down
in November. This caused uproar as the Tuk Tuk drivers and railway employees lost money/business and tourists were disappointed to miss an opportunity to sample this experience. To solve this, the local Government relocated it 4km out of the City. With new rolling stock and outboard engines it's a little bit Disney and still not fully complete but at USD5 each for 40 minutes entertainment, not too bad at all. We feel it's still a 'must-do' experience here.
Leaving the Bamboo train we head for Banan Temple which is located on a hill with good views accessible by climbing 379 irregular steps with the heat and humidity quite an ask, but we manage it, arriving at the summit very sweaty and bedraggled but the temple and views make it worthwhile, although sadly the small children trying to fan you down for money is tiresome. It is the first instance of outright child begging since our arrival in Cambodia. This temple was built in 1057 by Udaydithyavarmarn, predecessor of Suryavarman 2nd, who built Angkor Wat.
We now move on to Pnom Sampov Mountain, famous for its Bat flight every evening, and it's use by Khmer Rouge as a detention
center and killing caves. After the Killing fields in PhNom Penh, we know the basic story but here they used the Buddhist temple on the mountain's summit as a detention block and slaughtered the poor souls by throwing them into the abyss. Apparently, over 10,000 people, mostly under 22 years old perished there and after the restoration of the current government the mountain was being used as an artillery base to keep the Khmer Rouge at bay up to the late 90's. So recent, it's shocking.
The Temple has now been restored and there are several places where remains are stored, horrific. When we were there, a funeral was taking place in a town on the plains and the music drifted up and made the whole Mountain seem very magical, and the mist over the fertile plain, really beautiful.
After the earlier step experience we had opted for a Taxi up and down the Mountain which was too much of an ask for the ( Tuk Tuk), and for us, so after the Temple and Killing cave we return to the base to await the flight of the Bats. The air is sizzling with anticipation all the small
cafe and bars are full waiting the Bat's exodus and dead on time at 1800 Hrs
they emerge and swirl and stream away towards the river and fields beside it likened to a lively black ribbon in the air, to feed on the many insects in the fields beyond. This goes on for nearly an hour, over 10 million Bats on the wing, and it is truely a magical event that happens every evening of every day, fantastic. Returning back to our hotel at 7pm
after a 35 minute drive in near darkness, we were glad to be back, shower welcome, out to dinner at Here Be Dragons, then bed. Brilliant day.
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