Day 11: Battambang, Cambodia

by - May 08, 2011

Okay I will admit it up front, but I spent most of the morning in bed watching the Discovery Channel.  I was tired from days of getting up early, the room was air conditioned and the bed was comfortable, so I figured I had earned my lazy morning.  I got myself up at about midday and ambled around town for a bit to try and find somewhere that sold bus tickets to Phnom Penh for tomorrow.  I settled on a company called Capitol Tours, who charged me $4.75 which isn’t too bad for a 5 hour journey.

The Bamboo Train
There are a lot of temples in the hills around Battambang, but having seen Angkor Wat I decided to give them a miss.  Instead my one sight for the day was the “Bamboo Train”, which runs between the outskirts of the town and some outlying villages.  It is one of those quirky pieces of local culture that appeals to travellers as something that you just wouldn’t see anywhere else.  I had to get a tuk-tuk out to it, but that was quite pleasant as the driver was a young guy who was fascinated by England - and the English.  He was very complimentary of my accent and how much easier it is to understand than Americans and Australians (praise that I lapped up). He also wanted to be taught about how the UK works and why were are made up of different states.  It was cool to be able to talk about this stuff to somebody who wanted to listen, but at the same time it was a little unnerving that he pretty much faced me for the entire conversation rather than concentrating on the traffic. 

Me and my guide in the village
I arrived at the ‘station’ to get a full understanding of how the Bamboo Train works.  Essentially it is a motorbike engine strapped to a bamboo palate, a chassis and some wheels.  There is a single track that runs between the outskirt of Battambang and surrounding villages and when two carts meet, the one with the lighter load removes its cargo and disassembles to let the other one pass, before starting off again.  It is an ingenious system, but has gradually been phased out by better roads and the wider availability of motorbikes and is set to be shut down within the next two months, which is a bit of a tragedy because I had never seen anything like it.  It was a half hour journey along the line until the first village, where I got out and sat down to a drink given to me by a local woman.  A local guy who was about my age came out and started speaking to me in what was pretty good English, about the area and about the train itself.  He offered to give me a tour of his village, which seemed like a pretty good opportunity seeing that we were properly rural here.

The streets of Battambang
The village was a brick making village and I was shown around the kilns and other facilities, which weren’t firing as it was a Sunday.  It was fascinating to see how basic tools and a kiln could take blocks of worthless clay soil and turn it into bricks that could bring in money for the village.  The bricks sold for about a penny each, and I guess that demonstrates just how poor this country is that most houses are still made of wood and bits of iron.  As part of this improvised village tour I was also introduced to several villagers as well as a massive snake that had been trapped in a box.  After about an hour in the village I headed back on the bamboo train and actually met several people coming the other way.  Luckily it was they who had to disassemble their trains, because there was another one in front of me travelling in the same direction which made us into a kind of convoy.

I got the tuk-tuk back into town and watched some more Discovery Channel before heading out to explore Battambang for a bit.  I met up with Jake who I had met yesterday and we wandered around together - he had been here a bit longer than me so knew some of the good places to eat.  After stopping off for some street food it started to rain so we dived into the “Gecko Cafe” for a few Angkor beers and our evening meal.  I feel that I have been very cultured when it comes to cuisine thus far, so I decided to treat myself to a burger and chips this evening. It was fairly expensive, but I had had a bit of a break from culture today.  In the evening the two of us went to our rooftop terrace and met some other people there and I was actually able to have my first late night conversation with people.  Which was well worth it.  Tomorrow I am travelling to Phnom Penh, so see you there.

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