Sisophon was our next stop, 106km through flat peaceful paddy fields with only the sound of a cheery “hello” from locals to break the silence. It’s just a stopping off point so not much to do here apart from relax, tomorrow’s town would be full on tourist mode again though. Battambang is only 68km further south but you can see the landscape is beginning to change, less paddy fields and more agriculture, as we head to the border it will get higher and the paddy fields will disappear completely !
On our way to Battambang we realised that we’d have to spend some extra time there because we couldn’t enter Thailand to soon as they only give you 15 days visa at a land border!!
As we entered the town we stopped to check the route to the hotel and almost as soon as we did a friendly local appeared and gave us some help. He turned out to be a tuk tuk driver called Soon and we agreed to let him pick us up later and show us around. First stop was to the Bamboo railway at O Dambong, it’s some old twisted railway line left by the French and they use a “nori”, two axles with a bamboo trolley resting on them and power it by a small 6hp petrol engine with a fan belt around the axle, trust me, they’re great fun. Because your so close to the ground it heightens your sense of speed but in fact your only doing 15 to 20 kmp. As it’s a single line, when you meet another car coming the other way the lighter one has to dismantle and reassemble behind the other car. Three times we did this, it really adds to the whole enjoyment of this peculiar mode of transport. Sadly with the reintroduction of the railway beginning in Cambodia these Bamboo trains may well have to stop, it’ll be a sad day and I’m pleased that I got the chance to go on one !!
Not sure how our tuk tuk driver / guide would follow that but we put our faith in him and off we went, about 15 to 20km later we arrived at the foot of Phnom Sampeau, to get here we’d passed a vertical cave set high above the road, Soon said we’d come back to it later…very mysterious !! Also there was a large Buddas head carved out of the solid rock, Soon said it had taken someone four years to carve and would eventually be a full figure although I’m not sure how long that would take !!
From the carpark it’s a fair old climb up a steep staircase to reach the temple and stupa at the top, there is also access to “the killing cave” , a place of pilgrimage now but once a place where the Khmer Rouge bludgeoned people to death. Naomi and I chose not to visit as quite frankly it seems a little odd to make it a tourist attraction !!
The view from the top of the hill however is definitely worth the climb as are the buildings.
A lovely place with great views !!
As we left the carpark we noticed that the road below the cave was full of people looking up, Soon told us that very shortly about 4 million bats would be leaving for the night, he was spot on and for the next ten minutes we watched them leave. It was a steady stream, a black ribbon against the twilight sky, after ten minutes we left but Soon said it normally takes over half an hour for them to leave….incredible !!
We went back to the hotel after that and were frankly glad of the rest, it had been a busy day and was still very hot !!
Soon picked us up in his tuk tuk in the morning for another day of sightseeing, this time we headed out into the rural areas, Soon wanted to show us a few things, we let him carry on 😉 First stop was at the roadside, two girls were making sticky rice in bamboo, we’d seen people do this as we cycle along but had not actually stopped for a closer look. They cut the bamboo so that it’s a natural cup then stuff it with rice, coconut milk and a few other ingredients. The open end is stuffed with wet banana leaf and then it’s grilled over hot coals for a couple of hours. When it’s finished the blackened bamboo is trimmed for presentation and the leaf removed, it makes for a tasty snack !
We stopped next at a rather old, worn temple, Soon’s focus was all on the brand new one being built but Naomi and I preferred the older one, it certainly had character….
Soon was in his element now and had decided to show us the fish market, it’s such a shame you can’t smell photographs !! It really did hum, the first picture shows a man literally shovelling fish out of his boat into a huge basket, god only knows how they get so close without being overcome by the smell. Later we went into the curing shed, they cure the fish with huge quantities of salt but it doesn’t always work as it should. We looked into one huge barrel and it stank, there were small worms amongst the fish and Soon said they’d not added enough salt. We asked if they’d have to throw it away and he said no, they’d just add more salt and the worms would go, bullshit is what I think !!
Nothing’s wasted in Asia and I think that’s what makes it hard for most of us, some of the things they eat here are not even as good as the food we serve our pets back home, the difference is that they grow up with it and are used to the taste and textures, not to mention the smell !!
Making rice paper was next, there used for making spring rolls both fresh and fried although the ingredients differ slightly depending on use. We watched a man and his wife making them, it’s a really labour intensive thing to do and it requires a lot of concentration. They put the slightly steamed papers onto a lightly oiled bamboo rack and leave for a couple of hours to dry then they’ll be moistened again to make them pliable. The couple we watched make up to 3000 a day, sounds a lot but there not exactly an expensive commodity so they work long hours at it for not much money.
I mentioned in an earlier blog that all the railways had been ripped out or smashed by Pol Pot the once lunatic leader of the Khmer Rouge and Cambodia, never the less we still wanted to visit the old station ! As you approach this forgotten relic you look up at the clock which had shown 8.02 for some decades now and you can’t help feel a little sad. Beyond the lines are the disused train sheds, now the hang out of teenagers and graffiti artists, such a shame that one man could do so much damage not only to his people but also to the countries infrastructure. Fortunately as I said earlier they are now starting to rebuild there railway system and hopefully the station clock will finally tick on !!
Next stop was Phnom Banan, it’s about 28km outside of Battambang so we got to relax while Soon drove, our work started once we’d arrived ! The 358 stone steps rise sharply from the carpark and emerge on a plateau where five ancient stone towers now stand like a mini Angkor Wat. The locals will tell you that this was in fact the inspiration for it but people far more knowledgable than I claim it’s just optimism 😉 It is however a lovely shaded area and it’s quite nice just to wander around taking photos, there isn’t a view like there was at Phnom Sampeau but all in all I think a preferred it……
Fortunately that was all Soon had to show us, I was hot, tired and hungry so Soon took us back to the hotel, we ate, showered and relaxed for an hour or so before we were picked up for the last time, we were going to the circus !! We joined what must have been over two hundred people, mostly tourists in a small marquee about 5km out of town. The performers are from the Phare Ponleu Selpak multi arts centre for disadvantaged children and they put on quite a show…..in fact it was brilliant !!
We may not of understood what they were saying but we did get the gist of the story being acted out and the skills that they exhibited were of a very high order. Apparently they’ve had a couple of there students accepted to a professional circus school in Canada, good for them !!
We had one more day in Battambang and were looking for something to do when the hotel receptionist showed us a flyer, it was for a guided walk around Battambang, the company was started by university students and it’s called Butterfly Walks. We decided that as it was a good cause and a good idea we’d give it a go. Charlie our guide showed up on time but although he was a pleasant young man he wasn’t a born leader. We had to keep coaxing him to lead us to the next point of interest and to ask him questions about where we were going and what we were looking at. As it turns out there’s not actually that much of interest in Battambang and I think as a guided tourist flawed in this regard, as it turned out we were supposed to be out for three hours but we were back in two and frankly it was a struggle to make it last that long. I wish them well with there venture and applaud there get up and go but I think they need to add an extra something to make it a good walk !! Here are a few photos from the day…..
Well we may not have intended to spend so much time in Battambang but we could certainly have ended up far worse a place, it had plenty to do and see and lots of good coffee shops and cafés serving some excellent food, oh well onward and upward !
Pailin, was our last night in Cambodia before crossing the border into Thailand, the ride was 86km and at times is was very wet. For the most part it was flat but as I mentioned earlier we will climb to the border although no where near as high as the border from Laos into Vietnam. Not much to do in Pailin so yet again we just relaxed until the following morning.
Pailin to Chanthaburi, 88km and this time mainly up hill for the first 40km although you barely notice, slightly damp as you climb higher though and the scenery is now entirely trees and plantations, the rice fields have all gone !!
We passed through immigration without any difficulty and enjoyed a rather good road for the last 35km into town, we stopped at the first decent looking place, showered and then went for a look around. Now Chanthaburi is widely known for being the gemstone trading capital of Thailand so we went to have a little look. Unfortunately they don’t like you taking photos so we just made do with a stroll through the gemstone market before we went looking for food. We took a small road down by the river and eventually came across a cathedral, wasn’t expecting that !! We stopped within its shadow at a small cafe for a drink and some snacks before heading off, we just meandered about for a couple of hours, taking in the atmosphere and taking photos. We stopped again for food later and this time it was a proper meal of deep fried chicken and papaya salad….bloody lovely.
Back to the hotel to relax before heading out for dinner and a few beers, not much else to do so another early night followed that !!
Well that’s it for another blog folks, not to many left to write in Asia 😦