Battambang won our hearts; love at first sight you could say. Maybe it was the clean country air, the beautiful green countryside and the friendly locals. Or maybe it was just the part of Cambodia than felt most Cambodian.
Sure there were some annoying tuk tuk drivers, high-rise hotels and overpriced western restaurants. But life was largely unchanged due to tourism and visitors were still a novelty. Children ran to say hello and over-enthusiastic shop owners welcomed you with warm smiles. We even got a jug of free beer!
Battambang’s not got the draw of ancient temples like Siem Reap, or even grand palaces like Phnom Penh, but it’s authentic charm will certainly win you over. We planned on staying two days but we soon extended to four, and could have spent much longer!
Laying claim to being the only Bamboo train in the world, this is a unique bone rattling experience.
The bamboo train was born after a railway track was abandoned. The villagers quickly found a use for the line and transformed it into a way of moving goods. Shortly after, they realised this would make a great tourist attraction – you have to admire Cambodian entrepreneurship to make money!
It’s a single track line so if you meet someone coming the other way, you quickly have to jump off and disassemble the train to clear the tracks. The carriages are only made of three pieces – two sets of heavy metal wheels and a bamboo “carriage” to sit on top – which might explain why it’s such a rocky ride.
The train takes you to a Cambodian village, where you can see the locals going about their daily life. There’s nothing really to do other than look at tourist tat for sale, or enjoy a coconut.
Our New Zealand friends warned us about the persistent villagers and gave us some invaluable advice – to take your tuk tuk driver with you! It worked a dream and we only got persuaded into buying three bracelets and a coconut (we wanted those anyway – honest!)
But hurry – the train is set to close this month due to a road being built and no one knows when it will reopen.
Watching millions of bats disappearing into the dusk sky was awe inspiring. Thousands of bats left the caves at once and their random twisting path was mesmerising.
We secured ourselves a prime seat opposite the cave. With a beer in hand and the horrific smell of bat poo to accompany, we patiently waited.
The bats ran like clockwork and right on time they began exiting the cave. Once the first bat had checked the coast was clear, the others swiftly followed. Thinking it would soon be over, I ran around like a lunatic trying to get the best photograph. 20 minutes later, hundreds of bats were still leaving the caves and we couldn’t believe where they were all coming from.
Phnom Sampov and Killing Caves
Situated near to the bat caves, this Buddhist temple sits atop of a large hill and is surrounded by stunning views of the vastly flat Battambang. The main highlight is definitely the scenery, but the temple is also good to look around and there’s some shocking history to learn about the killing caves.
During the Khmer Rouge period, innocent people were led up the hill and thrown into the caves to their deaths. This history is divulged to visitors by laughing children who will later demand a tip. This certainly takes away from the awful history and we would have much preferred to be left alone.
One word of warning, watch out for the monkeys! We managed to get cornered by a large male. The only way out was by a small path, which the monkey was sat in the middle of. Everytime we went closer, it bared its teeth and snarled. Eventually I plucked up the courage to walk past and thankfully it (slowly) walked away.
Tour of Non-Tourist Areas
Pungent fish cheese, temples, a rice paper factory and a killing field – what a varied and brilliant tour! Our tuk tuk driver, Johny, was the perfect guide and took us to these wonderful places off the usual tourist trail.
The fish cheese factory was an attack on the senses. Blood stained cars filled to the brim with dead fish were being unloaded. The chop, chop, chop of beheadings was constant. The stench of rotting fish guts filled our nostrils. And all of this to make some cheese? We were talked into trying some and all I can say is it’s certainly an acquired taste – I struggled immensely just to swallow it!
The rice paper factory was much more pleasant. We saw how they made the paper from scratch, which was a very time consuming process. The highlight was definitely getting to try some spring rolls made with the rice paper, where we quickly made the ladies hard work disappear.
The killing field was hard to take, as the history we were learning about was so recent. Between 1975 and 1978, horrific massacres took place across Cambodia, where the educated and those seen as a threat to the communist Khmer Rouge party were murdered in cold blood. 10,008 innocent people were killed on the very spot we were standing, which was difficult to comprehend.
Where to Stay?
If you’re planning a trip to Battambang, I couldn’t recommend Blue Diamond Guest House enough. It was super cheap for a hostel that was basically a hotel and the friendly atmosphere made it feel like a home away from home.
We spent so much time relaxing at Blue Diamond and many hours were enjoyed playing pool, cards and Trivial Pursuit. They’re also building a pool, so we’ll have to return when it’s finished!