After some time in Siem Reap, I was ready for a mini vacation and decided to take a short trip to visit Battambang. There are three options to get there, minivan, boat, or taxi. The trip by road is about 50 miles/80 km, but with the roads, it takes about 3 hours. The boat is the most expensive option, and also the longest at 4 hours. Of course, I love to be on the water and see all of the little villages, so I chose the boat. Unfortunately, I picked a day where they didn’t run the normal tourist boat with rows of seats, but instead a smaller, not so nice boat with seats around the edges so we could all stare at each other instead of the beautiful scenery. I ended up at the very back of the boat, in front of the toilet (which was awesome if you were less than 3′ tall), engine, and captain. Luckily I had my earplugs handy in my backpack as they gave me some protection from the crazy loud engine. Once we were sufficiently packed in and all the luggage and a few bikes secured on top, we started moving….slowly! And, as it goes, we soon made a couple more stops to pick up some local passengers as well as a live crocodile covered in rice bags (WTF?), that was placed on the floor in front of the toilet and directly behind me. Okay, here we go…hot, sweaty, so much leg room, and sucking in fumes, what a treat!
As the day wore on and the hours ticked by, it became so hot on the boat that many of us climbed out and stood on the outside ledge to get some air and take in the views. It was beautiful outside of the boat. Finally, 7 hours later, we arrived!
I had booked a homestay, thinking this would be a fun experience. Unfortunately, my private room with a shower was not private as it had said, and after the long day I couldn’t do it. I decided to regroup and find a boutique hotel where I could get a nice shower, some privacy and a good meal. Luckily the family was nice and let me go without a charge, and I trekked 3 km across town to my new place, sweating out a few more cups of water on the way! The new place, The Sanctuary, was great! Lots of plants, a nice pool, and a clean room with a hot shower…Yay!
The next day, I asked them to call me a tuk-tuk, as I saw a temple on the way into town with some crazy statues and wanted to check it out. Here you go… Wat Pnew, depicting the Buddhist hell and many other interesting things!
In the afternoon, I found a guide to show me some of the other sites as well as take me to the old bamboo train which is still used to move goods and people from town to town. On the way, we saw lots of fun stuff, and I was even licked by a cow on the road!!
The bamboo train was definitely a highlight and soooo much fun to ride! They actually build the trains on the tracks, then take them apart and move them off the tracks when the larger trains come through or when one of the small cars comes from the opposite direction. It is quite an operation!
At the final station there is a little market where the locals sell clothing and drinks to the tourists. Right now, there are only 12-15 tourists a day and about 8 shops, so they stop each train at a different shop so each of them has a chance to sell something. The lady at the shop where I landed was so sweet and we had an instant connection. I ended up having to wait for the big train to come through before we could return, so we had some time to chat. She told me of her life riding the bamboo train to school as a child, which she only attended until 4th grade. She was the oldest of 8 kids, and her dad was an alcoholic and beat her mom severely. In 4th grade, he passed away, leaving her to take care of her mom and younger brothers and sisters. She worked so hard to support her family. Now, she has 5 kids of her own who she wants to offer a better life. She works hard every day setting up her shop and trying to pay for their school and necessities. Her oldest is working hard too and hoping to attend some college soon! It was so humbling to speak with her and also to play with one of her shop neighbors girls by the tracks. The kids are learning English and are so eager to talk with tourists! This was a really special place to be.
For the final part of the day, we went to see the giant Buddhas carved in the mountains and the Bat Caves of Phnom Sampov. Here they set up a viewing area and snacks so at dusk, you can watch over 6.5 million bats fly out over about 40 minutes for their nightly feeding. This was amazing! Take a look!!
So, that’s Battambang in two quick days! I hope you had fun!
P.S. I took a minivan back to Siem Reap with two other people…we arrived in 2.5 hours! Phew!