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Published: October 7th 2008
Wed 6th August
We decided to travel south to Battambang from Siem Reap by boat. We bought tickets from a travel agent which cost US$15 each. We were told it would leave at 7am but a van would come to the hotel and take us to the pier. We waited until about 6.35am and there was still no sign of the van. The guy at the hotel said not to worry and it was normal to be late but we didn't want to take any chances. So we decided to get a tuk-tuk instead of risking missing the boat. We started regretting our decision soon after as we soon discovered that we had hired the slowest tuk-tuk in Siem Reap. The 11 kilometre journey was excruciating and as 7am ticked over the van that we were waiting for at the hotel overtook us. We still had a few kilometres to go and we now had grave doubts whether we would make the boat. We finally arrived at the pier, which incidentally is where the Chong Khneas floating village is located, and were relieved to find out that our boat had not left yet. As soon as you arrive there are
Chong Khneas floating village
This is where the pier is for the boat to Battambang. It's about 11km from Siem Reap.
kids about who will tell you which boat to board and will help you with your luggage. Mind you, they will expect a tip for carrying your bag 10 metres to the boat. So if you don't want to part with a dollar or two, you should keep hold of your own bags at all times.
The boat was reasonably small with enough seats for about 20 people, although there were probably about 35 people on board. Therefore a few people had taken to sitting on the roof. Once we started having to navigate some narrow waterways and doing some sharp turns however, it was obvious we were top heavy. We were in danger of toppling over so the captain kicked everyone off the roof and made them take their luggage down as well.
The trip itself took about 8 hours. You might assume that an 8 hour boat road would be quite boring and an opportunity to read a book or nod off to sleep. However, I found the entire trip quite interesting as there is plenty to see along the way. There are quite a few small communities along the river where incredibly the people still
Boat to Battambang
Young boys will immediately offer to help you with your bag...for a tip of course.
seem geniuinely excited to see a tourist boat go past. Parents will rush to get their children to tell them the boat is here. Kids will wave and smile at you as you go past, some even blowing kisses. It really is a remarkable experience to be treated like visiting royalty by the locals.
Also another reason why I didn't nod off during the trip was because I was sitting in a "window" seat. There were periods during the trip where you had to duck and weave, unless you wanted a branch smacking into your face.
When we arrived in Battambang we hired a tuk tuk to take us to the Angkor hotel as it was supposed to have nice views. However it looked pretty closed when we got there so we stayed at the Teo Hotel around the corner instead for $15 a night. Hotel was basic but clean which is the main thing for me. However they did seem to have a bit of a problem with laundry. Once I received someone else's clothes and then after we left Battambang, I noticed that all my black socks were missing.
We went for a walk up
You can buy a few snacks and drinks for the trip, like bananas and baguettes.
town to find something to eat. We came across the Smokin' Pot which is mentioned in the Lonely Planet. It is a restaurant but they also have cooking classes here as well. We tried the roast chicken which was quite good, about US$4 for a whole roast chicken. They had two different roasted chickens. Moan Bampong Klanh (deep fried black pepper, roasted garlic, oyster sauce and lemongrass) and Moan dot Touk doung (roasted in a wok with coconut water served with garlic and pepper sauces). They seemed to utilise a lot of herbs in their dishes like Kaffir lime leaves, mint, basil, and lemongrass. The one detrimental thing I will say for the Smokin' Pot is that they have an extraordinary number of flies. It must be attributable to their hygiene standards because we walked across the road to another eating place and there was hardly a fly to be seen.
Before we left Singapore, Chris had found some footage on Youtube of some guy riding a Norry, or bamboo train, in Battambang. These are quickly assemblable and disassemblable abled platform trains. It consists of a frame about 12 x 6 feet made out of strips of bamboo. This
is mounted onto 2 wheel axels and powered by a 2 stroke motor. These are mainly used by locals to get from village to village and also to take their produce to be sold. We also read that norry drivers will take tourists for a short ride for a nominal fee. We were determined not only to ride one of these but to ride it all the way to Pursat which is over 100km away from Battambang. We weren't even sure if anyone would take us because we couldn't find anything on the Internet indicating that anyone had done this before. We decided to ask a few tuk-tuk drivers whether this was feasible. We got a couple of drivers who shook their heads at us saying it was too far and no one would take us. A third one said he hadn't heard of anyone doing this before but said he could us to the track to ask the norry driver.
We got to the track just in time to see a bunch of tourists returning from a norry ride. A bunch of kids were playing on another one pushing it up and down the track with about 6
kids enjoying the ride. We explained to one norry driver that we wanted to go to Pursat on Friday morning. He seemed genuinely surprised and told us no one had ever asked to go all the way to Pursat before. There seemed to be some talking between himself, his wife, and a couple of others. They came back and said they would do it but for US$100, which after some negotiating came down to US$70. I'm sure they were still extemely over the moon with $70 but for a once in a lifetime experience, we were prepared to pay almost anything. Doesn't make a very interesting story to tell your grandkids. "Well kids did I ever tell you the story where I almost rode the bamboo train from Battambang to Pursat? We got them down to $70 and then tried to bargain them down another $5 but they wouldn't budge so we caught the bus instead".
Having secured our ride to Pursat we returned to town to eat and have a few beers. We ate at an outdoor eatery type place where only locals were evident. One peculiar thing is that they seem to stick ovaltine in most of
their drinks, even my fruit juice that they blended up for me. The nightlife in Battambang is pretty quiet with not many places to drink that we could see. We went into the Bopha Thip Restaurant and as soon as I stepped through the door I was immediately man-handled by a girl asking me if I wanted a beer. Soon after we were surrounded by beer girls shouting at us to buy their particular beer brand from them. All I could hear were the girls shouting Lao, Tiger, Angkor. There was one girl not screaming at us but pretty much just standing there. I asked her what she was selling. She said Anchor so I said ok one please. After that the screaming subsided thankfully for me and I could now hear the live band playing toe tapping local music. Every now and again they would play a song and the people on the dance floor would join together to form one giant line dancing routine. An interesting spectacle but one we didn't stick around too long for, as there's only so much Cambodian line dancing a person can take in one night.
Thurs 7th August
We got a
tuk-tuk driver to take us out to Wat Phnom Sampeau. This hilltop temple is about 18km from Battambang and is also where the Killing Caves are located. These caves were used by the Khmer Rouge to throw people down into after being interrogated and tortured. At the bottom of the hill is a squatter town where local kids will offer to take you up and be your guide. There are two ways to get up. One is a shorter but steep ascent via mainly stairs and the other is a long winding road but gentler ascent to the top. We took the long winding road up and then the stairs on the way down. The way up took about 10-15 minutes and I didn't think it was that hard, however Chris didn't share my view. I thought it was quite a pleasant walk up as there are some spectacular views along the way. However I guess on a particularly hot day it may not be so pleasant. Along the way you see some dedication plaques in the ground which show people who have donated money to the construction of the road. Once the road comes to an end there is
a plain white temple which was used as a secret interrogation room. You can still see hooks in the roof which were used as torture instruments. Nearby the temple is the entrance to the Killing Caves. Some of the victims' bones are kept in a cage, while some are in a small memorial monument. Leaving the caves there's another ascent to reach the Wat Phnom Sampeau. Along the way is a rusting German made anti tank gun which has been abandoned by the military. At the top of the summit is the Wat alongside some spectaular views of the surrounding countryside. It makes the walk up worthwhile. We descended back down using the stairs and gave our guide a few bucks. He said he uses the money to pay for school which costs about $20 a month.
After we got back into town we visited the museum and a couple of temples. We did a bit of shopping and stocked up on supplies for the norry ride the next morning. We headed back to the hotel and then I went back out to have a look at the public park. It was a hive of activity with people jogging,
kids playing hacky sack, and a few groups of aerobic sessions going on. I also tried to find a Battambang souvenir t-shirt while I was out. I guess you know a place is not very touristy when you are unable to find a single one.
After having dinner we went to the Riverside Balcony Bar for a drink. Like most places in Battambang it was pretty quiet and laid back. It is located right near the Stang Sangker river but it was so dark and there were so many trees around you couldn't tell. There were a handful of westerners there drinking and smoking something that we had seen on the boat trip along the way. We were sat at the bar having a quiet drink when I felt as if someone had a hold of the back of my shirt. I turned to my right and glanced at Chris. He was just sitting there as per normal drinking his favourite peach vodka cruiser and reading his copy of Dolly magazine. I glanced to my left, nothing there either. I thought, oh shit what the hell is on the back of my shirt. Images of a great big hairy
tarantula came immediately to mind. I counted to three and then with one swift motion swatted the offending thing off my back. I immediately scanned the floor and then I saw it. The biggest, ugliest, meanest,...leaf insect you'd ever see in your life. Ok it was no tarantula but it looked like it had terrorised many a plant in its time. One of the women who had been having a smoke started saying, oh don't hurt it, it's beautiful, it's harmless, blah, blah, blah. Obviously she had had one puff too many. Anyway after my near brush with death from the killer leaf insect, and after I coaxed Chris down off the bar counter, we headed back to the hotel. It was a 8am start the next morning for our historic norry ride to Pursat.
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