When I arrived in Cambodia, one of the places I really wanted to visit was Battambang. Last time I was here it was on the list however James and I ended up substituting it out for Koh Rong. Luckily for me, Battambang is only a 2 hour bus ride away from Pursat! After my first 1.5 weeks of work I decided to take a long weekend off and celebrate Christmas there, then head back again near the end of my trip.
I arrived in Battambang on Christmas Eve and checked into Here Be Dragons ($8 for a private fan room). Dragons has got to be one of the best hostels I’ve stayed in in Asia and is definitely the best in Cambodia. It’s western owned and run, has delicious reasonably priced western food and the atmosphere is really chilled. They also have a super cute little garden with egg chairs, hammocks and places to relax and chat to people – perfect as this is what my weekend away was supposed to be about!
My second day in Battambang was Christmas Day. I really wanted to spend the day doing things so I made some new friends, jumped in their tuk tuk with Nakim as our driver for the day and we went off an adventure. Nakim was awesome – a really nice guy and super knowledgeable about the area. He also personalised our day so we saw what we wanted to and gave us recommendations on other things to see and do around town. If anyones heading to Battambang, definitely get in contact with him either through Facebook or via Here Be Dragons!
Our first stop was the Bamboo Train. This ‘train’ is a removable bamboo platform attached to two sets of wheels. The train travels 7km along warped tracks to a small Cambodian village where you hop off, explore for 20 minutes, then ride the train back again. Bamboo Trains were used in the 1980s after the Pol Pot/Khmer Rouge era ended to transport anything and everything, however once the roads were rebuilt and the country started to recover they declined in popularity. Our 40 minute ride was a lot of fun however the village at the end was definitely an anti-climax – a whole bunch of tourist orientated stalls (statues, hippie pants, bracelets etc.) and a standard Khmer village with people going about their daily business. Still, we went past some beautiful scenery and were glad we did it!
Our next stop with Nakim was Phnom Sampeau. This mountain near Battambang is scattered with temples and caves, including some used during the Khmer Rouge as torture temples and killing/grave caves. The most memorable part of our visit however was the bats. At around 6pm, thousands upon thousands of bats pour out of a cave approximately halfway up the mountains cliff face and head to nearby fields to feed. They fly in a funnel formation then spread as they get closer to the fields – such an incredible sight however one that was unfortunately hard to get a good photo of!
The following evening, Nakim took a group of us from the guesthouse to the circus at Phare Ponleu Selpak. Phare Ponleu Selpak is a non-for-profit organisation that works with vulnerable children and young adults, with one of its major programs being a performing arts school. The performance we saw told a funny romance story with plenty of acrobatics, balancing acts and juggling thrown in. It was quite expensive at $14 each but was for a good cause and was actually quite entertaining!
The day after the circus I unfortunately had to go back to Pursat. My bus ride home was horrible – I ended up on a crappy old overcrowded bus that stank, sitting next to a guy whos stuff took up all my leg-room. Then, the ticket man shoved my small backpack into the overhead space (while I was telling him not to) where it got absolutely covered in mud, so I wasn’t very impressed. I hadn’t travelled with that company before and safe to say I won’t ever travel with them again!
I had really enjoyed Battambang so decided it would be my refuge for when I wanted to get out of Pursat. However, as I did my Phnom Penh visa run, had my week off seeing James and did a few trips to other cities with work I never really felt the need to “escape” back to Battambang. Before I knew it I only had 4 weeks in the country left and I really wanted to go back to Battambang see the rest of the sights!
As I was a bit pushed for time, I did something I’ve never done before – booked accommodation in advance and organised a tuk tuk driver to take me out! So organised! Nakim wasn’t working that day, so Dragon’s organised DJ to take me out instead. DJ is another fabulous tuk tuk driver in Battambang and I highly recommend him if Nakim is unavailable!
Our first day together was a trip out to Wat Banan. Wat Banan is an Angkor-style Wat that sits atop a hill in a very picturesque area of Battambang province. Unfortunately it’s now March and it was the afternoon, which means it was about 36 degrees and extremely humid, so safe to say the 356 step climb to the top wasn’t exactly pleasant. It was worth it though as the Wat was well preserved, very peaceful and quiet due to the lack of tourists. Descending the stairs was a lot easier than ascending, however the best part was the mango shakes at the bottom – a gift from the heavens!
After my big stair climb I felt I deserved a treat, so headed over to Choco L’Art Cafe after dinner. Holy moly. My little treat turned into a giant chocolate fix as I sat there for an hour reading their books, eating a chocolate mousse and drinking a hot chocolate! They were both incredible, however I did feel a bit sick walking home…
For my second day with DJ I managed to recruit 4 other girls from the hotel to join me on a sightseeing loop. First stop, Wat Ek Phnom! This complex is an old Angkor-style ruin with an accompanying modern temple and giant Buddha statue. The ruin itself was a lot more ruined that I had expected – if you had to choose one ancient temple I’d definitely recommend Wat Banan over Wat Ek Phnom. It was so ruined and looted that it would be unrecognisable as a temple if it weren’t for the rebuilt central pillar and planks of wood holding it together!
Our next stop was a rice paper shop/factory where we watched the ladies creating rice paper before having a drink and trying two spring rolls for 50c. I went for the fried version and they were good, although not the best I’ve had. The paper was nice but the filling let them down as all she had put in them were bean sprouts!