Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Travelling Southeast Asia: Battambang, Cambodia

Our time in Battambang began with an overnight bus journey from Sihanoukville. From Sam and Vicky's previous experiences and from having spotted a few sleeper buses, we were hoping our bus would be in the airline seat style. Instead, when we got onto the bus, we were confronted with two rows of single bunk beds, with a very narrow aisle down the middle. Naturally, we assumed that each bed was one seat, but that would have been much too comfortable. Each bed was in fact two seats - just imagine having to share with a stranger. Our beds were the top bunks, which, for someone of 5ft2 involved a lot of jumping and clambering. 

The first leg of our journey took around six hours, before we had to change buses in Phnom Penh. The 'bus station' here was just a road full of buses and people with no idea where they were going. After half an hour or so of questioning everyone around us, we found the right bus, and prepared ourselves for another 6 hours of discomfort.

We were staying at The Royal Hotel in Battambang, which makes us sound like the fanciest backpackers ever, but I promise it was just another budget hotel. After a well-needed couple of hours of rest, we headed out to wander around Battambang.

 That evening we had planned a trip to the circus, as this was one of the suggested reasons to visit Battambang. At $14 per person it was a little out of our budget, but the circus was run by Phare Ponleu Selpak, a multi-arts centre for disadvantaged children, so we were happy to support the cause. After an amazing couple of hours full of some really impressive performances, we finished off the evening with some curry at Flavours of India.

 We had a few things to fit in the following day so we hired a tuk tuk driver, costing us $20 for the day. Our first stop of the day was the Bamboo Train. These tracks, which no longer serve as a functioning railway, used to stretch from Sihanoukville all the way up to the Thai border, but are currently just working as a 7km ride in Battambang. We were all very much surprised (and slightly terrified) by the speed of the vehicle, considering it consisted of a bamboo platform balancing on four wheels.

Our tuk tuk driver then took us around various fishing villages, including one nicknamed San Francisco because of its Golden Gate Bridge lookalike. This section of our day wouldn’t have been the same without the knowledge and input of our driver; he took so much time and effort to teach us about our surroundings, and we had an amazing insight into the culture and customs of these small villages.

After this we were taken to see the Killing Caves, which is a location that was used to dispose of dead bodies during the Khmer Rouge regime. We were expecting a similar set-up to the Killing Fields and Genocide Centre that we had visited in Phnom Penh, but unfortunately this area was not as well maintained or managed, and there seemed to be a lot of exploitation going on, in terms of young children asking for money to walk you up some stairs. Whereas the Genocide Centre in Phnom Penh felt like an extremely respectful way to educate the world about the horrors of the Khmer Rouge, these caves in Battambang were being abused for the sake of tourism, and it was quite an uncomfortable experience.

Our final stop in Battambang was just moments away from the Killing Caves. Every day at dusk, millions of bats fly out of an opening in the side of some rock and make the journey to Lake Tonle Sap, roughly 60km away. None of the photos or videos really do justice to the sheer number of bats that flew out of the cave, and we could see them spiralling across the sky even once we were back out on the road towards the centre of Battambang.

I also vlogged our stay, which gives an even better impression of Battambang, so give that a watch and subscribe to my YouTube channel so you don’t miss the vlogs from the rest of the trip!


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