After an extreme bout of procrastinationitis I am finally getting back on the blogging bus.
When I left you we were back in Siem Reap city, knackered but happy following an eventful trip to the temples of Angkor.
Following a day of recuperation in Siem Reap we hopped the bus to make the 3 hour journey west to Battambang – Cambodia’s second city.
I first visited Battambang not long after I arrived to start my placement with VSO and instantly fell in love with the place – it has a lovely laid back sleepy feel to it, nothing at all like the hustle, bustle and bedlam of Phnom Penh.
Arriving at the bus station we binned off our first tuktuk driver who thought it would be ok to try to rip us off with an extortionate price and then only agree to drop the price down if we agreed to employ his services for another exhorbitant fee the next day.
Thanks to this guy’s poor negotiating skills though we stumbled upon Yo (when he introduced himself it sounded more like Joel so that’s what we all called him for the 3 days though he never seemed to notice) who immediately offered us a fair price to the hotel and when discussing the trip the following day gave us loads of suggestions and jokingly agreed to accept a lesser price if I decided he was a bad tour guide.
He picked us up bright and early and off we trundled heading slowly towards an 11th Century Temple in the province – Wat Ek Phnom.
Within five minutes of setting off it became clear that Yo was determined to earn his full fare for the day, as he went into full on tour guide mode telling us all about the history of Battambang and the naming of the river (it’s named after a big tree that was on the east bank and when it fell made the first bridge between the inhabited west bank and the jungle of the east in case you were wondering).
Next on the itinerary was a stop at the legendary magic man of Battambang statue that looms large on one of the main through routes of the city. Yo explained the legend in depth (it involves a farmer with a magic stick, a prince and a flying horse if I remember rightly) whilst we watched in awe as a family pulled up beside us in a car and proceeded to get a whole roast pig out of the boot and head towards Magic Man with it! Apparently, the Battambang Magic Man is still thought by many to wield special powers and especially on auspicious days (it was the day of the full supermoon) the super superstitious of the province bring offerings (most weren’t as ridiculously OTT as the pig but there was enough to supply a good old buffet from what I could make out) and ask magic man for help, support and good fortune from him.
Our next point of call was the bamboo train. I have to admit I wasn’t that bothered about visiting this, thinking it would be something fun to do when my nieces came to visit but not really my cup of tea.
How wrong could I be. We spent a fab 30 minutes trundling through the Cambodian countryside on a few planks of bamboo resting on some wheels and powered by what sounded like a overworked hairdryer motor, waving at those who had disembarked and disassembled their train to allow us to pass and marvelling at the sights including a HUGE spider that loomed large in a web directly over the tracks. On the way back Auntie Yvonne even managed to fit in one of her legendary naps thanks to our good fortune at not having to disembark to let a train come past the other way. According to all of the guidebooks the etiquette is that the trains with the least passengers give way to those with more. However, I think some discussion had gone on amongst the drivers and agreement had been reached that, having witnessed the farce that was the initial embarkation of my travelling companions anyone and everyone would be forced disembark enroute to allow us to pass and avoid a repeat of this very slow, cumbersome comedic event!
Our journey post bamboo train took us through more of the Battambang countryside to visit small home enterprises where rice paper, rice wine and sticky rice products were being made. Again Yo was tour guide extrordinaire, explaining the process involved in each instance, answering our myriad questions and encouraging us to sample the wares (all of which were fab if a little potent in the case of the rice wine).
Speaking of potent, our tour also took us past the ‘fish factory’, a covered market area where they produced dried and fermented fish. OMG is all I will say – whilst not as toxic as the ammonia experienced on route to the Killing Fields the smell was certainly as strong forcing an emphatic no from the 3 of us in answer to Yo’s enquiry as to whether we wanted to stop and look.
As with the rest of Cambodia, Battambang was not immune from the iron grasp of the Khmer Rouge. This time it was a beautiful little temple that suffered at the hands of the regime being transformed into a place of mass cruelty, torture and slaughter in its use as a prison. We wandered around the small structure accompanied by a ghost like local with the most gentle features before Yo guided us to the nearby memorial, built with donations from various nations, to those murdered in that short but oh so brutal period of Cambodia’s recent past.
And finally we reached our destination. The ancient ruins of Wat Ek Phnom. Dating back to the 11th Century the temple predates those of Angkor, is equally ornately carved and, unlike Angkor, was virtually touristless when we visited. After my amble and mum’s comedy scramble up the again ridiculously steep steps we had a very pleasant wander around the ancient ruins, stopping whenever we reached shade to marvel at the intricacy of the construction and to just take in the beauty of our surroundings.
Next to the temple is a huge Buddha statue which sits proudly on top of a half finished concrete bunker like structure. Yo confidently informed us that this building was so because, half way through construction, the authorities had enforced an existing law prohibiting the building of structures in temple grounds. They further demanded its destruction though for the local community this was a step too far as to destroy a statue of buddha would be sacrilege of the highest order and thus it came to be that there is a marvellous, imposing Buddha sitting on an unfinished concrete bunker surrounded by a mixture of beautiful statues on plinths and the empty plinths of the statues that never were. Only in Cambodia!
Wow we had seen so much and flipping heck it was still only 1 oclock. Yep that’s right, this post only covers 1/2 of our day out in Battambang. We headed back to the hotel for a quick shower and change before heading out once more and I’ll tell you all about that when I write again tomorrow.