Tag Archives: battambang

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 :)

The day we walked to Thailand

5 Mar

We went for breakfast at a little place by the sea and whilst we were there, we found a book of things to do in Koh Kong. One of them was to go to the zoo near the border of Thailand. As it happened, we were eating just near the bridge to get across so we decided that rather than go back and get that bike from our guesthouse, we’d get a tuktuk across. We hadn’t appreciated that it was 12km each way so weren’t expecting the driver to tell us it was $15…so we said no we’d walk.”You can’t walk, it’s 12km.”

Well now you’ve told us not to do something, we’re going to do it. So we started walking…”Ok, ok, $12″. “No, we’re walking. Thanks”. “Ohhhh. Ok. It’s 12km!!” “That’s alright, we need the walk. Goodbye.” We walked off.

“Hey! You! $10?”

“No, we’ll walk. Thank you.”


So off we walked to within 500m of the border of Thailand.

What we saved by walking may have been cancelled out by the amount we had to drink just to get there…including this

which tasted like “cigarette juice” according to Craig.

We didn’t see anyone else walking, but assumed that this was because walking was the intelligent decision favoured only by the knowledgeable few. The knowledgeable few who remembered that when you get to the zoo, you also have to walk around that…

But when we did get there (after seeing the tuktuk driver zip past several times, waving cheerfully to us each time), we were glad we didn’t pay to be driven over as it was $12 each – the most expensive entrance fee we’ve seen whilst we’ve been away I think. But when we looked round, it was clear they’d spent a lot of money on the enclosures and exhibits so we didn’t feel too bad.


I was expecting to see very small cages and sad looking animals given the standard of animal care here, but most of the animals looked happy enough, well fed and cared for and in reasonably sized enclosures. The smallest cage was the sea eagle’s…I guess they thought if they gave him a big enough cage to fly in no one would be able to see him, but it does seem weird they gave an enormous cage to the peacocks (who don’t fly much) and a tiny cage to a massive bird like the eagle. They also had animals shows on every couple of hours. The guidebook had warned us that these wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste, so we weren’t surprised when we went to investigate the orangutan show, the orangutan outside was wearing a dress and made to pose with people for pictures. We had a look at the set for the show and saw “Orangutan Boxing Match!”. We decided to give it a miss in favour of looking at the ostriches. You could get really close to the animals in most enclosures


Got to feed bambis sweet potatoes!

One of the more special exhibits.

There was a massive electric fence seperating the tigers from each other’s pens…and a tiny little metal railing seperating them from us!

Direction…or instruction?


They wouldn’t let us have a go on this for some reason. Maybe they knew it was our intent to steal it and pedal it around SE Asia. To Australia the Stupid Way?

We did relent and get a motorbike back each from the zoo. When we got back to the guesthouse and told Paddy that we’d walked to the zoo he at first didn’t believe us and then just kept asking “why” :)

We spent a nice night with the guys at the guesthouse, helping Mara get on Facebook and setting up his email account. This is his new profile picture

Mai, the lady that works there, took me under her wing and re-patched up my foot, gave me eucalyptus oil for my million bites (which I swapped for a nail varnish which she seemed pretty pleased with) and gave me a back massage. Mara said that when we come back we can build ourselves a house on his land near Kampot…an offer he may regret making!

We also booked bus tickets to Battambang for the morning – not realising we had to go back to Phnom Penh first because the Cardamom mountains are pretty inaccessible by road and it would take ages. So an epic 12 hour 2-bus journey later, we finally arrived here having been invited to attend a Cambodian wedding by one of the guys we met on the bus. It turned out that the offer wasn’t serious but little did we know we’d be gate-crashing one 14 hours later…