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Battambang

Written on: Sunday February 17th, 2008

A journal entry from: Southeast Asian Adventures!

We left Siem Reap early in the morning and took a bus to the boat terminal for an 8 hour boat ride down Tonle Sap River to Battambang, a town located on the river that doesn't see too many tourists. The boat terminal wasn't much... it's a very poor area, very hectic and dirty. We were immediately swarmed by girls selling baguettes, bananas and water for our boat ride. We walked up a plank and onto the small boat to take us down river. We were able to lounge on the roof of the boat in the sun for the first four hours and take in the beautiful floating villages and scenery around us. At around noon we stopped to to change boats, and the last 4 hours were spent in a small boat on a rock hard bench facing another bench, so there was no room to move. It was very cramped and it was slow going as the river is very low at this time of year, but the trip was enjoyable as kids swam out to greet our boat, and we took in the small villages along the river.

The highlight of Battambang, and my favourite day so far on this trip, was a day spent on the back of motorbikes in the countryside. Alan and I each hopped on the back of a motorbike and set off on the bumpy, red dusty roads of the countryside. After driving for about an hour, our first stop was a small farm to see how rice wine is made. I'm not sure I grasped the whole process, but I did learn that they give the leftovers to the pigs, who get drunk and go to sleep.

Our next stop was the killing caves, where the Khmer Rouge executed their victims. Located nearby after a bit of a climb was Wat Sampeau, a small wat with a golden stupa sitting on a cliffside. Bun, Alan's driver, introduced us to the delicious sapodilla and golden fruits at this point - I can't get enough of them!

I chatted with my driver about Cambodian history and life in the country. He was very knowledgeable about Khmer Rouge. He was 13 years old when they came to power and spent many years living in a refugee camp run by the United Nations. He was educated by the UN and they taught him English as well. He had many good things to say about the UN, as they have taken care of his people. He also liked us Canadians, as some of his family took refuge in Canada during the Khmer Rouge regime.

After another hour or so of driving we arrived at Wat Banan, also known as Little Angkor. Our last stop of the day was to take a ride on the bamboo train - a few planks of wood and bamboo set on rickety old tracks run by a tractor motor. The bamboo train was good fun, and brought us closer back into town.

One evening we took in the traditional Cambodian dance at 'Fresh Eats Cafe,' a cafe run by former street children. After the music and dance they tried to teach us some dance moves, but I don't think I was any good.

Battambang has definitely been my favourite place so far. The people are friendly, and it was interesting to see the real countryside and village life. Our next stop is the capital, Phnom Penh!