A Flying Tour of Battambang

Although we had a week in Battambang, Cambodia we took the opportunity to get through most of the “must do” items in a single day. We had a nice tuk tuk driver for the whole day and it would free up the rest of the week. Who doesn't like a little extra leisure time?

The Bamboo Train

Western Cambodia has a number of old rail lines built during the French colonial days. After decades of war and no maintenance the whole system is badly worse for wear. These days the rails are warped and most of the traffic consists of norrys, small flat bed cars driven by motorcycle or tractor motors. They're loud, bumpy and really fast. Not recommended if you have a bad back. Zooming along, occasionally getting whacked by passing bushes, turned out to be more exciting that I expected.

A ride on a norry will set you back $5 per person. For that you'll get taken 20 minutes down the track to a spot where you can buy a cool drink and optionally go and see bricks being made. Guides, in the form of local kids, are available to walk you through the brick production process. The brick making was interesting actually. Assuming we understood correctly the clay comes from local farms. The clay is fed into a machine that spits out one continuous brick. Lengths of fishing line then cut it into individual bricks. The bricks are stacked in large furnaces where they're fired by burning rice husks, also from local farms. Its a pretty simple but effective means to produce cheap construction materials using materials they have easy access to.

There's only a single track so overtaking involves lifting one of the norries off the track. Apparently the norry that has to move depends on who is carrying the lightest load. Or who wins the driver on driver “I can wait as long as you can” competition.

After a cool drink and a tour of the brick making it was only twenty loud, jarring minutes later and we were back where we'd started.

Wat Banan

Banan temple gave us the chance to get out of the tuk tuk and stretch our legs. It's on top of a hill, at the top of a few hundred stairs. It was $2 each to get in. By this time the day had heated up and it was a long sweaty climb. The temple is like a mini Angkor Wat. Our tuk tuk driver said that Banan was built first as a sort of prototype. This probably isn't true. It was most likely built after Angkor Wat. But, as they say, never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Battambang Winery

Cambodia is home to a single winery. We're both fond of the occasional glass of wine so we thought we'd pop in. For $2 you can taste their various products. Wine can be purchased for $16 a bottle.

The tasting was certainly an experience and features red wine, brandy, grape juice and a honey ginger drink. Cambodia doesn't have a tradition of wine drinking, hence the diversification into other products.

So what did we think of the wine? Well, they still have a long way to go before you'll see their wine on the menu at a restaurant or wine bar near you. Respect is due however for launching into a market that, if done right, could open up a whole new industry in Cambodia.

Killing Caves

The Khmer Rouge only ruled Cambodia for four years, although they did hold onto parts of the country for more than a decade after that. During their four years in charge they oversaw the deaths of 20 to 25 percent of the countries' total population. Many of the dead were executed at one of around 300 killing sites scattered around the country. The site referred to as “the killing caves” was one of them. The number of individuals killed here isn't known. Victims were bludgeoned with whatever heavy objects were available then tossed into one of the caves scattered around the mountainside. Skulls and larger bones have since been gathered and are stored in large collections. If you look closely around you, you may also see small piles scattered around of bone fragments and teeth that have been collected by passers by.

The cost of entry to the caves is somewhat unclear even after having been there. Near where the tuk tuk pulled up there was a fairly official looking man saying there was a charge and it was too far to walk so we would have to rent a motorcycle which would also cost money. I'm not sure if there are legitimate fee charging people around but our tuk tuk driver quietly assured us that we didn't need to pay this guy for entry.

Past the caves is a mountain top temple. Our driver explained that if we wanted to go there a motorcycle is advisable. If we just wanted to go to the caves we could probably just walk. After some discussion among a lot of people it was eventually decided that our tuk tuk driver would borrow a motorcycle and give us a lift to the cave with a small fee going to the motorcycle owner. We started off but the motorcycle quickly ran out of fuel. We continued on foot. It really wasn't that far. I honestly don't recall if we wound up paying anyone anything.

If you're wanting to find the caves there is a temple part way up the mountain. If you're standing in front of the temples' front door facing it, the path to the caves is behind the temple off to the right.

And in Conclusion

Those were the major stops of day dashing around Battambang. We also checked out a traditional Khmer house and visited Battambang's so called Golden Gate Bridge. It was a full daily with many sweaty hours spent in the tuk tuk and climbing countless stairs. Lucky we have the rest of the week to recouperate.

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