Saturday, 6 April 2013

Battambing Battambang

Battambang is probably one of our favorite places that we have been to yet. We had such a great relaxing time there and had a chance to see the "real" Cambodia.

But in order to get there we had to get the bus from Siem Reap. We were waiting for our bus that morning in our hostel when it finally came, we jumped on and it dropped us off at the bus station. there were people selling things all around us as we got off and everybody else on the minibus that brought us to the station were getting on a certain bus. We packed our bags underneath and jumped on too.

About 30 minutes into the journey a man came over to us and asked us where we were going to. We told him we were going to Battambang and his look said it all. "This bus is for Phnom Penh" he said. All we could manage to say was "Oh." He called the bus company and put us on the phone with an English speaking person who told us that we were on the wrong bus (Phnom Penh is about 6 hours south, while Battambang was northwest 6 hours) Luckily she told us that the bus driver would let us off the bus somewhere and another bus will come and collect us. About five minutes later the bus stopped and we were let off at a petrol station in the middle of nowhere with the promise that another bus would be along in ten minutes. 

Waiting for the bus
Sad that we got on the wrong bus

I have to admit that those ten minutes were some of the best minutes I've had so far while traveling. We really got to see how wonderful the Cambodian people are, we had people waving at us from their motorbikes and two different people stopped to make sure that we were ok, one woman with her mother and daughter on the bike with her. While waiting we also got to see some unbelievable things such as a man on his moped with three pigs strapped to the back!
Somebody stopping to make sure we are ok

You can't really see but this man has a pig on the back of his bike.
We've also seen bikes with 3 pigs on the back.
Like they said, about ten minutes later, a bus pulled up and we were on our way to Battambang.
Battambang is the second biggest town in Cambodia but it is so laid back that it's hard to believe. When we arrived in Battambang there were some tuk-tuks waiting to show us their guesthouses and to bring us to them. When there is a group of people all offering similar things, my rule is to go with the cutest oldest man. (it seems to have worked so far!) Our person of choice this time was Mr. So Phat. He was such a nice man and brought us to our guesthouse, the Seung Hout hotel. We were surprised to find out that it had a swimming pool and was well in our budget.

Our first day was spent chilling in the pool and strolling around the town. It was such a nice relaxing town. I think this is why we loved Battambang. The last couple of years everywhere that myself and Jason went to together we always managed to get off of the tourist trail and feel like we are really seeing the country (Korea included). But since this journey has begun we have just felt like there is no way to get away from other tourists...that is until we arrived here.

There were only a handful of other tourists around and since all the bars close by 10p.m. here there was no party crowd.

On our first full day in Battambang we decided to ask Mr So Phat to take us on a trip to see the bamboo train and the killing caves. Mr So Phat had practically begged Jason for a job the day before so we decided it would be nice to ring him and ask him to take us. He was at our hotel within ten minutes and was so happy.

All ready for the bamboo train ride.
The bamboo train.
The bamboo train is probably the number one touristy thing to do in Battambang, but even so, we only saw about 7 other people there. The bamboo train is a network of very basic “trains” made from bamboo (hence the name) that the Cambodians used after the Khmer Rouge had been in power. At that time there were hardly any cars motorbikes or taxis so people found it nearly impossible to move things around the country. Then these rails were made in between the bigger towns that allowed people to transport heavy things around. In fact, they even used to transport cattle on these things! We were allowed the chance to take a ride on the bamboo train for about one hour. It was a really fun experience and actually went quite fast!
About halfway through we stopped at this little village for a break and got to play with the sweetest kids. They made us jewelry from leaves and didn’t want any money from us or ask us to buy anything. We really were away from the backpacker trail. One of the boys had great English and was very interested in the fact that we live in Korea.

After our break we got back on the bamboo train and made our way back. Because there is only one rail line, if a train is coming in the opposite direction both trains have to stop and one has to be disabled and move to make way for the other. The train back was exciting because there was fierce thunder and it looked like it would rain any second.

Jason on the bamboo train

Beautiful kids in the village that we stopped at.

Inside the temple (prison)
A shrine near the killing fields.
Once we got back Mr So Phat was waiting and ready to bring us to our next destination. It was quite a distance away, that allowed us to see Cambodian rural life from our tuk-tuk. Luckily the rain never came and it was time for us to go to the killing caves. During the Khmer Rouges’ reign nearly 20% of the population was killed. All around Cambodia prisons were set up for people that didn’t follow the Khmer Rouges’ regime precisely or for people that the Khmer Rouge decided to kill for no reason at all. Here in Battambang, the main prison was this beautiful temple on top of a mountain. It is so peaceful there that it’s hard to imagine the horrors that went on.

Nowadays the temple has returned and it is being painted with beautiful bright pictures.  Just a minutes walk away from the temple you come to a big cave. This cave was where the Khmer Rouge would beat and kill the prisoners and then throw their bodies, sometimes dead, sometimes alive, down into the dark cave. There was also a separate cave opening where they threw the childrens bodies. It was very grim and has been made into a prayer area. But the skulls of some of the poor people that suffered are on show here. I’ll explain the reasoning behind the public display of the skulls in our Phnom Penh blog.

Some of the clothes of the victims.
Walkway down to the cave where they
threw the children's bodies.

It was a very somber experience visiting the caves but is also important to see while visiting Cambodia, we also got to learn far more about the Khmer Rouge regime in Phnom Penh.

Some of the skulls at the cave.

Overall we had a wonderful time in Battambang. The town was so laid back and the architecture was beautiful. I would definitely recommend a trip to Battambang while in Cambodia.

At the top of the mountain.


Accommodation: Seung Hout hotel: $12 air-con room
Hire a tuk-tuk driver for a day: $15 (you could get it for less, but we really loved Mr So Phat and didn’t mind paying that price)
Bamboo train ride: $5
Motorbike up to the killing caves (optional): $3
Bus to Phnom Penh: $10 each, promised wifi, but it didn’t work. (could get a cheaper bus for $7)

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