Battambang Badaboom and the bamboo train!

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May 8th 2011
Published: May 8th 2011
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Trusty Tuk TukTrusty Tuk TukTrusty Tuk Tuk

Great way to explore should you get a decent driver!
After 4 days in Siem Reip its time to move, I'm meeting my buddy paul in about a week in the capital and prior to that myself and Niamh decided to head to one other location prior to making our way to Phnom Penh.

Sihanoukville is the happening place to go. Ash texted me saying that its a hopping place full of bars and beaches. Shinouville is also a great spot for diving and being freshly qualified I'm raring to go. Unfortunately its big hike and since Paul is here in a a few days sitting in a Cambodian bus for 11 hours listening to Khmer karaoke at full volume on the buses tv screen is just to horrific to contemplate.

As a result we have compromised and headed to Battambang, its only 3 hours away and the number 4 on the tourist trail following Siem Reip, Phnom Pehn and Sihanoukville.

Battambang doesnt scrub up as well as Siem Reip but that expected, there no temples nearby, nor any places of interest in the town itself so there simply not as much to do here, neverthelees according to the guidebook its a nice place to spend
Its not the Luas...Its not the Luas...Its not the Luas...

But it gets the job done!
a day and both myself and Niamh are completly templed out.

Our plan of giving the the welcoming committee tuk tuks at the bus station when we get off the bus is foiled when it appears all of them are offering complementry dropoffs to the Royal Hotel, the hotel where we had previously decided we had our tout discouraging phantom booking.

We hop in with one driver who seems friendly and we arrive at the hotel, en route we negiotate a price a days sightseeing with the tuk tuk driver including a visit to the Bamboo train, a few more temples and to something that sounds terribly romantic known as the killing cave.

The hotel as far as 9 dollers a night goes is lovely, big room, hot water, telly and I manage to surive both nights without getting in epic battles with any creepy crawlies, my lonely planet covered in bloodstains and dryed insect ichor collected over the last few months remains quietly on the bedstand unused but ready to be called upon when needed.

Should the winged invaders attack, the malaria tablets have begun kicking in and I'm having difficuilty sleeping, when I do manage to get an appointment with mr sandman he gives me dreams that wouldnt look out of place out of an all day marathon of Twin Peaks on Scifry, causing me to toss and turn and drag all the covers off the bed and niamh, who needs more sleep tthen most other human beings, to get very very grumpy.

First stop on the list is the bamboo train, Cambodia's rail network was given a serious beating during the civil war and the train service is very antiquated and slow,. The few trains that run apparently only travel at about 15 MPH . The locals however in Battambang have come up with an ingenious invention called a bamboo train, all you need are some wheels, a few peices of bamboo and an engine and you have a homemade train that goes up to 25 miles an hour or what seems a lot longer when your teeth are chattering away as it clatters over the rails.

We pay for a ride up to the next town and hope on, the driver guns the engine and off we go sitting on a platform of bamboo suspended only as
Bamboo train dismantledBamboo train dismantledBamboo train dismantled

But can be back in action in seconds!
few inches above the clattering tracks, whizzing past bemused cattle, water buffalo and rice paddies and worryingly over a few very rundown looking bridges.

Battambang is a farming town and the bamboo train is invaluable and ingenious way for the farmers to transport their produce to and from the town, its also apparently for midnight smuggling. The only problem is that while there are a number of bamboo trains there is of course only one train line so what happens if the you meet another bamboo train, or heaven forbid a full size freight train coming the other direction?

No problem, the bamboo train with the smallest load of people or produce has to dismantle the train and let the other one pass, if the incoming train is a freight train wieghing several hundred tonnes then you simply have to dismantle your train a fair big faster. The trains have only 4 parts, platform and attached engine, two seperate wheel axles and the dismantling process take only a few seconds. We need to do it several times during the trip and I get to work off the Angkor beers from the previous night hefting the wheels back
Phnom SampeauPhnom SampeauPhnom Sampeau

Big hill, middle of the day, no problem- Yeah right!
and forth. Both myself and niamh has a lovely time, lying out on the bamboo with the wind in our faces and sun turning the platform into a big sunbed. We had a quick stop off at the next vilage where we had the craic with the locals before returning on the train,

Niamh was very popular here and was showered in jewellery made by the village children created from flowers and surrounding plants. While I didnt get may flowers I was given plenty of mango slices and some sort of spices you rub on them to go with it. I couldn't tell you what the stuff was and I was a bit afraid to ask but it was lovely even if it was like chewing ground up chilli's.

Next stop was a romantic stroll pair of temples located on the hill known as Phnom Sampeau as well as a considerably less romantic trek to something called the Killing cave. We stopped for lunch and had an cracking food in a resteraunt owned by the tuk tuk drivers extended family. Its a shame kymer food isnt that well known aboard as its by far the nicest we have had in asia. While I was busy banging the drum about eating snakes and reptiles most Kymer ciusine is enjoyed with pork, chicken and an awful lot of river fish. Cambodia's most well know national dish is the amok curry, which is cooked in a bannan leaf and accompanied by healthy portions of fresh vegtables and rice, if by change you find it give it ago, I couldn't get enough of it!

Once lunch was enjoyed we hired a local girl to show us around the mountain, the hill to the temple was near vertical and the midday sun was microwaving our skin which was doubly susceptible to suncream due to our malaria tablets. Climbing the incline was slow going as well as slightly embarrassing as our pint sized 11 year old tour guide was skipping ahead of without a bother on her.

On the way we learned that a troop of macques lived near the summit, macques often settle around temples to feed on the offerings left by the buddists and we had a few run in with thems in thailand. They are medium sized monkeys that live in large troops and live on a diet of fresh fruit and from what we have witnessed tourists fingers.

Niamh who once wanted a pet monkey to go on her animal collection( get her drunk and ask her) but on every occasion we have seen them they managed to enthusasitically chomp the hands off other tourists in our company. As I write this a friend of mine from college has put up on her facebook status that she has been "Macqued" on monkey bay in PhiPhi. So take it from me, If you see monekys in South east Asia they may be cute but they have sharp teeth!

The temple was lovely we were the only people present at the summit and much to Naimhs relief no rage infected homical monkeys made an appearance. The land around the summit was miles and miles of rice paddies as far as the eye can see with one single mountain sticking out like a travellers wedding.

Our guide indicates us to follow us down the path, skipping ahead of us before stopping, turning her head over her shoulder and then beckoning gently to a massive drop into the side of the mountain.

"This is the killing cave" She
Phnom BananPhnom BananPhnom Banan

Me and blondie just can't get enough of the ole temples!

"This is where they kill the children and this the adult" she says matter of factly before continuing to innocently skip deeper into the cave as if she had just pointed out the location of the local shop .

The killing cave has two openings that lead to a sheer drop onto jagged rocks. Above the rocks all that can be heard is the manic chittering and flapping of agitated bats. Regarding the killing that went on gas or bullets were too clean for the Khmer Rouge, their modus operandi normally entailed slitting the unfortunate victim juggler or bashing in their skull with a club or rifle stock and then cast his corpse over the edge of the precipice down to the rocky floor at the bottom of the cave. Those who have read the original lost world novel might recall that the primitive barbaric ape man tribe used the exact same procedure to execute prisoners, kind of says a lot about what the Khmer Rouge were like.

A mural showing the details of the execution is displayed not far from a display cabinet full of skulls from those who perished here are a
Stick to the path!Stick to the path!Stick to the path!

here there be landmines...
sombre and chilling site, most of the skulls showing the indentations of blunt instruments. We felt pretty queasy after leaving the cave and the flapping of bats only added to the atmosphere.

Final stop of the day, Phnom Banon temple, was a good 30 minute tuk tuk ride and gave us plenty of time to cheer up after the Killing Cave. Phnom Banon is reached by climbing seemingly thousands of stairs to the summit. Learning from our previous climb I was taking in plenty of water and my bladder wanted a rest. Taking a wee in the bushes here was inadvisable as as soon as I began climbing the fence I noticed the little red warning sign, all the land surrounding the marked path were littered with landmines and I could have very nearly made it into the Darwin awards.

Next stop...Paul comes to Phenom Pehn!

Additional photos below
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Long steps to Phnom BananLong steps to Phnom Banan
Long steps to Phnom Banan

Serious protesting and "Waaaater" requests from blondie on the way

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