After a few very enjoyable days in Phnom Penh, we made our way on a fairly cranky, and pretty packed Sorya bus towards Battambang where, for another 3 days, we’d planned to treat ourselves to an excellent hotel, La Villa (separate post coming shortly on that), and take in a few of the local attractions before we headed across the swollen Tonle Sap lake towards Siem Reap and Angkor Wat.
On our first morning, my wonderful night’s sleep was interrupted at 6am by my alarm which I’d set the previous night in the hope of being able to head towards the abandoned Pepsi factory for some good sunrise/early morning photography. In fact, I ended up arriving before most of the squatters in the complex had awoken and opened the gates, leaving me to clamber over the top while my tuk tuk driver watched with complete bewilderment. The factory itself was abandoned in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge took control of the country, but has been used as a photo opportunity by many a tourist since then. Until recently that is – when the squatters decided they didn’t fancy having people going inside any more and have refused to open the doors. For anyone thinking of heading there from the centre of ‘town’, I wouldn’t bother with the tuk tuk as it’s probably not much more than a brisk 20 minute walk. I suspect a few dollars might persuade the residents to let you inside.
The disused train station is fairly near the centre of town and was also well worth an hour – though I wish we hadn’t done it around midday.
Our next adventure was towards the bamboo train, though ‘train’ isn’t perhaps quite the best word to describe it. It does run on the train tracks, but it looks and feels like something which shouldn’t be transporting people – only things which aren’t alive, and therefore can’t be killed. If this was in the UK, the waiver would probably be 37 pages long. And they wouldn’t let 12 year olds drive it. At top speed. That said, I’d probably do it all over again, but I would take a cushion. Could barely feel my backside for two days.
At the far end of the track, where the train is dismantled and reassembled on the tracks facing the other way, there are plenty of kids all too eager to show you around some of the rice fields, explain how the rice (and pig meal) is processed and point out which houses are theirs – with the expectation they’ll get a dollar or two in exchange for their trouble of course. Rosie was bowled over by the big eyes of the one in the pink dress in the photos, who, if Rosie started talking to any of the others, just clicked her fingers loudly, grabbed Rosie and walked off to the next stop on the tour.
Aside from that, Battambang was a fairly relaxed little town with a couple of good spots to eat and some very chatty locals. Despite being a ‘large’ city for Cambodia, it’s relatively untouristed and one of the few places I’ve been so far where I’ve actually had to flag down tuk tuk drivers as opposed to being offered one on every street corner. The views from the Phnom Banan temple were well worth the effort required to get to the top of the 300-400 steps, and the ruins up there are a good amuse bouche for anyone whose next stop is Angkor Wat.
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