Whistlestop tour of the sites of Battambang

6 Mar

We got off the bus to the usual clamour of tuktuk drivers, offering their services as tour guides, drivers and guesthouse recommenders. We had already spoken to a French couple who had been to Battambang and said we should stay at the Asia hotel as it was cheap and clean. One guy in particular was very keen to get our business and kept saying we should go to the Royal hotel…we said no, we’re going to the Asia…and he immediately pulled out their leaflet and said he worked for them as well :)

We decided to treat ourselves to an $8 room – no cockroaches, no rats, no spiders, no frogs. Air-con, a tv, two double beds and a massive bathroom. Amazing after the mould of the last place! Whilst we were checking in, the tuktuk driver, Yaryar, kept trying to tell us to take a tour with him the next day and the amazing things we would see. At this point we’d been travelling for 12 hours on various buses and really just wanted a shower, but he wore us down with his enthusiasm and cheerfulness. We signed up to a tour with him the next day for $10 each.

Sure enough, the next day he was waiting for us. He took us to a bookshop for free (there were no English books in Koh Kong aside from textbooks) so I stocked up and then took us for breakfast, where we met his dad, Mr Philay. Apparently his dad was going to drive us round instead of Yaryar, but his dad was super cheerful too so we said ok. When I say super cheerful, I mean he literally boomed all the time, smiling from ear to ear.

He shouted that his friend’s son was getting married today (another tuktuk driver) and would we like to go to the wedding? We were a bit unsure about randomly turning up but any doubts were met with “WE WILL GO TO THE WEDDING! HAHAHA!”. Ok, we’ll go to the wedding. When we got there, there was a large marquee decorated with pink and yellow bunting and lots of guests sitting on gold-covered chairs, all clutching wrapped gifts. A band was playing traditional Khmer music

and everyone was dressed up

Mr Philay explained at top volume that the bride was yet to come out, but when she did, “SHE LOOKS LIKE A MOVIE STAR! A MOOOOVIE STAR!!”

Shortly after she made her appearance and made her way to the groom

Mr Philay made guests get out of their chairs to let us sit down, all the time booming “TAKE PICTURES! PHOTOPHOTO!” He then decided it was time for the next excursion, the bamboo train, although he invited us to the evening do later on that day on behalf of the bride and groom.

The bamboo train was built to link Battambang with Phnom Penh by the French in the ’30s. Mr Philay said before it would take a month to walk to PP, and after the Khmer Rouge banned or destroyed most things mechancial, men would use bamboo poles to push the train – a kind of bedstead on tiny wheels – along. It now runs with engines from Thailand. The single track is very narrow. If another train comes the other way, the train is lifted off the track, the wheels removed and one of them continues, the other left to be reassembled.

At the end of the line, we got shown round a brick factory by a little boy. He showed us the tiny machine used to make all the bricks from the clay dug up nearby, and the kiln where up to 80,000 bricks could be fired at once. He also showed us a “sleeping plant” – if you stroke the leaves they all curl up like they’re napping.

From there it was to “Cambodia’s Golden Gate Bridge”


Mr Philay had just said to me “oh, my daughter’s taller than me” which made me laugh.

Then to see where the local chillies are grown

My heaven. There is hardly any spicy food here (no matter how many times you tell them “hull” – hot). Mr Philay insisted in picking every variety of chilli (it was not his farm) and giving them to me to taste and keep which will come in handy.

After that we went to the mini-Angkor Wat on the top of the mountain. Mr Philay sensibly said he’d stay at the bottom and “watch my bag” whilst we climbed all these steps and more

After a sweaty climb up and back down again, we sat and had lunch with him and his friend. Both had lived through the Khmer Rouge period and had lots of stories to tell us. Mr Philay’s father was an ambassador in Thailand and his brother was a pilot. They lived in a big house in Phnom Penh and had a Ford Capri. As his father and brother were educated, they were both killed by the KR, and in total Mr Philay lost 12 family members. He still does not know where his mother and sister are buried. He said he was working for 12-16 hours a day in the fields after the KR marched everyone out of Phnom Penh, living on a small portion of watery rice “soup” a day and having to eat food meant for the pigs, insects and leeches as he was so hungry. It’s unbelievable what people went through.

But he did not let this get him down when he was telling us about it so it was on to the next temple…also at the top of a mountain. We were accompanied by a little girl whose job it was to show tourists the way. She said she’d already climbed it three times that day and it was boiling so I felt sorry for her having to do this job at such a young age. She seemed quite mature though and plodded in front of us, laughing as the sweat ran into our eyes. She was very scared of the monkeys that lived near the steps though as she said some of them bit so she hid behind Craig for that bit!

On the way back, Mr Philay pointed at a tree with lots of black leaves on it. Ah, not leaves, “BATS! BATS!” – and before we knew what he was doing, he grabbed a long bamboo pole and whacked the tree with it, making these huge, previously sleepy, bats fly out. They were enormous

although maybe a bit smaller than the hedgehog-sized rats we saw in the evening near the market scraps. We got back and gave Mr Philay a tip as we had had a full day for not much money and he was so enthusiastic and joyful about everything it was impossible not to like him. He repeated his invitation to the wedding but as we’d have to pay another $20 for our food and drink, plus money for a present, and we were absolutely knackered after packing so much in in one day, we said we would probably call it a day :)


2 Responses to “Whistlestop tour of the sites of Battambang”

  1. Hilary Hall 8 March 2012 at 7:06 pm #

    Pretty sure the ‘bats’ are flying foxes! They hang up in trees all day wrapped inside their wings looking like black nylon shopping bags and they fly off at dusk to go looking for fruit. We saw lots in Queensland. Unfortunately they have a nasty virus so you don’t want to get bitten by one.

    • toaustraliathelongway 8 March 2012 at 11:32 pm #

      According to Wikipedia (and we know they’re always right!), fruit bats/flying foxes are called Megabats, which is brilliant! They were enormous so it seems quite fitting :)

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