For the first two nights of our week off me, Alice and Kate got the 7 hour bus to Battambang, a small town which a lot of tourists miss out when they visit Cambodia but which has so much to offer - especially a very relaxing vibe after spending majority of the last 2 weeks in the capital.
First thing we wanted to do when we got there at about 3pm was eat...naturally and we fancied Indian food, so we went to Flavours of India where I had bread for the first time since I left the UK and it was insanely good naan bread. It was super chill so we just stayed in there for a few hours discussing what to do with our full day here. One of the big things you notice about Battambang is the French colonial vibe, left over from when the French ruled Cambodia between 1863 and 1953. The style of buildings and the names of the hotels/restaurants are a big give away that they had a large influence on this area. We decided that night to go the Battambang circus, which is the most highly recommended entertainment in the centre. So off we went in our tub tub, the sun had already set by 6.30 so it was pitch black as we went along down very dark country roads heading further out of the city. That was when we realised we hadn't actually checked whether the circus was on that night, we had just seen that it started at 7pm and headed off. As luck would have it, because of Pchum Ben, the circus was having a week off, so we just went straight back to the city. Typical. It does come really recommended though so if you ever find yourself in Battambang on a Monday, Thursday or Saturday I would go and see it.
Our main full day in Battambang was spent doing everything lonely planet suggested we do. In the morning we went to the bamboo train. This is an approximately 50 minute ride on a bamboo platform along the disused railway tracks on the outskirts of Battambang. Of course I managed to find some thing train related with a bit of an interesting history. There are no longer any trains in Cambodia, but when there were, this line was used for locals to get from Battambang to Phnom Pehn. When the railway was abandoned, the locals used the bamboo trains, pictured below, to get from village to village along the tracks before motorbikes and cars were common. It was way more exhilarating than I expected. it went at least 30 miles an hour past fields and fields of rice paddies and countryside. if you met another 'train' along the way, the one with the least amount of people on dismounts, the drivers remove the train from the railway and the other train continues. It was a to of fun and only $5 per person. We had hired a tuk tuk driver for the full day, so from here we went to Ek Phnom Temple which was taken by the Khmer Rouge when they rebelled in 1975. They used the original temple as a prison - there is now a new temple there and the old one is used as a symbol of what happened during the Khmer Rouge, along with the killing field not far away, where the bones of thousands of Cambodians who were killed are displayed. At the original's temple we found the sticky rice balls which I mentioned in my previous blog are a symbol of 'Pchum Ben' an offering from the locals to the spirits of they ancestors. These are taken to the temples every morning during the festival.
In the afternoon we went to one of the most exciting places that Battambang is known for. The bat caves. First we decided to walk up what can only be described as a mountain (we could have got on the back of a motorbike but our volunteering insurance does not cover this so we sacrificed smelling good and decided to sweat it out, and sweat we did). Phnom Sompov is the name of the temple/mountain which we climbed, I have honestly never sweated so much in my entire life, ever. Half way up there is the killing caves, where the Khmer Rouge sent a lot of Cambodians to their death by pushing them off the cliffs. This was horrible. Not only was it a sombre place, as you would expect, there were horrendous statues depicting how they tortoured people and the bones of the victims are kept in the caves as well. There was also a lot of children trying to sell you things or take you on tours of the caves for money. Encouraging children to do things for money is something no one should do. We told a little girl we didn't need a tour guide and she asked us for some water. We gave her an unopened bottle and she ran into the caves to drink it where no one would see. Giving money to these children encourages them and their families to keep using them to get money from tourists and it is not what they should be doing.
When we finally reached the top we were greeted with beautiful views of rural Cambodia and two monkeys which were actually very well behaved and came no where near us thank god, I don't fancy going and getting a rabies jab at a local health clinic thanks. The final part of the day was to find a good seat at the bottom where you can be seated and waiting for the amazing natural bat show which happens every evening. It hadn't rained yet that day so the bats were due to come out earlier a local told us. at about 5.35pm over a million bats flew out of the cave ready to go and hunt for their tea. Not only is this an incredible sight to see but the realty of how important the bats are for the local area is incredible. The bats feast on the insects that eat the rice crops. It is approximated that the bats in this area prevent the loss of over 2000 tons of rice a year which is about enough rice to feed over 21000 Cambodians. So basically the bats are icredibly important. It took about 45 minutes for all the bats to actually leave the cage which is mad.
It was a long sweaty jam packed day but it is absolutely worth a trip to Battambang when you're in Cambodia. I may have woken up with 20 mosquito bites the next morning (yes I counted because I'm sad) but knowing the bats feasted on a few mosquitos that evening makes it ok...the morning before we left we had a spa treatment at Nature Boutique Spa which was amazing. Because of all the bites, and I'm not a massive fan of a massage because they hurt, which I know is the point but I chose to have an aloe vera 40 minute full body scrub because I'm a sucker for some exfoliation and it was perfect. It scrubbed all the dirt an dead skin away so I'll need another one for sure in 3 months. They gave us honey tea and fresh dragon fruit before and honey tea after and it was such a relaxing place, I would definitely recommend - a bit ore expensive ($10 for 40 minute scrub) but you get treated well so you get what you pay for - you can get a full body massage for about $5 in other places but we found they didn't have air con or anywhere to shower the oil etc off!
Next is Siem Reap, of course!