Gang Battambang

Trip Start Nov 06, 2012
Trip End Feb 01, 2013

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Let’s start with the trip here.........from Siem Reap on a boat, which the local tourist office is very eager to tell you does “not accord with Western safety standards”. No kidding. Given some of the other journeys we’ve already made on this trip and in other parts of the globe, this didn’t bother us too much. Even the setting off 90 minutes late and the journey taking ten hours instead of the advertised six didn’t phase us (we’ve clearly been away from London for too long!). What did bother us was the fact that this journey was one of the most uncomfortable we have ever been on. The seats, if you can call them that, were rock hard and leg room non-existent that, by the time we arrived in Battambang, we couldn’t move our legs and our bums were numb. Plus, we had raging headaches from the constant noise of the motor. We were however grateful for having been two of the first people to get on the boat, for those who turned up later had no seats and had to spend the full journey cooking in the Cambodian sun......we suspect those people, like us, spent much of the boat trip wondering whether they were still in Cambodia, given how long we’d all been on the boat...............

It was however, the most scenic and interesting journey we have ever undertaken, with the boat weaving its way down narrow waterways, some of which were inhabited. We worked our way through different communities - past floating houses and houses on stilts - we saw men, women and children out in longtail boats working on the waterways, waved at little children who were out playing on the deck at their floating nursery get the picture. Our little boat served as a postal and “bus” service - the captain would sound a horn before getting to the next town or village and the locals would row up to our larger boat and hand over post or goods or drop off relatives who were making a journey down the river.  

There were numerous community centres for “The Cambodian People’s Party”, which we can tell, from our brief stint in the country, clearly plays a major part in Cambodian society. The Prime Minister of Cambodia stated earlier this week that he would not support any claims over disputed land grabs and forced evictions (of which there are many as developers move in) if the claimant was supported by anyone other than The Cambodian People’s Party........not helpful for the communities which have been displaced and moved to less fertile areas and not exactly “of the people”.

On arrival in Battambang, we were met with the usual clammer of tuk-tuk drivers wanting our business and successfully selected one to take us to our hotel.  Our hotel was lovely and we were again met with cold towels and a welcome cocktail (we chose the alcoholic version of course!) before being shown to our room and the “self-cleaning” swimming pool which had fish in it!  Unusual and a little bit too green for A’s liking, but a good pool none-the-less.  The pool attracted a number of frogs and other wildlife at night and the chorus of croaking was a lovely sound to drift off to sleep to.......

We took a tuk-tuk back into town that evening, stopping to pick up some petrol from a stall which we had previously thought was one of many selling ice tea and something along the lines of Tizer/ Irn Bru - these stalls are all over the place and our tuk tuk driver explained to us that the locals prefer to use this type of "petrol station" as they don't trust the government petrol pumps. Good job we hadn't stopped for a refreshing Irn Bru! 

Once in central Battambang, we started thinking that we were in gang central SE Asia. Outside every shop, there were a number of men and women stood idly next to the doorways or on motorbikes.  It was only when we realised that some of these youngsters didn’t have any heads that it became apparent that they were not gangs but were shop mannequins modeling the latest teen fashions.  A had already bought himself some fisherman’s pants and felt ahead of the game anyway!!
We stumbled on the Gecko cafe, which supports local women by paying them above the average wage so that they can pay for their education at university or help to support their families, a worthwhile venture we thought and so bought some Angkor beers.  It turns out the cafe is well named as there are literally hundreds of geckos running around the place.......the place also does an awesome “Bikini Martini”, which was one of the drinks A knocked back in celebration of his Chartership (not quite as feminine as the “Maneater” cocktail which was created at his birthday drinks in Shoreditch a few years ago, but it was very pink and almost in that league...).

The following day we elected to venture out to the bamboo railway in a tuk-tuk  - (seriously, probably the BEST method of transport ever devised!). We used the same tuk-tuk driver as on our first night - guess you could say that he “adopted” us for our stay in Battambang and was more than happy to ferry us around and meet us whenever we asked him to!  He took us through beautiful villages and breathtaking lush, green countryside to get there. One thing that had already struck us in Siem Reap was the number of large and colourful butterflies we had seen. There was no shortage of these in the Battambang area and they were delightful to watch, flitting about the country lanes.

The bamboo railway is a stretch of line on which run the “trains”, comprised of a bamboo frame, two axles and a motor.  It is a single line with trains running in both directions and when two trains meet the one with fewer people on board is dismantled and put to the side of the track to allow the heavier train through.  The train is the re-assembled and the journey continues along.  Our train was dismantled twice to allow others through which was quite a sight.  Don’t for a second think that as these trains are lightweight and open to the elements that the drivers slow down - they go as fast as is possible and it is possible the greatest roller coaster ride there is and all for $5 US!  We were really pleased to have the opportunity to ride this stretch of track as there are plans to dismantle it. A bit of history - while even back in the late 70s, it was an ageing system, bamboo trains all over the country were critical in getting Cambodia up and running again following the removal of the Khmer Rouge from power.

At the far end of the line, we were welcomed by a Khmer family who had lived in London - it was a bit surreal talking to a former Cambodian soldier about his life in SW1 while knocking back a beer! The local children gathered around us while we were chatting - unbelievably cute. We can see why Brangelina adopted a few of them (or was it just the one?) last time they were over here. Some of the kids also had pretty good English. We did our best to impress them with our small repertoire of Khmer - hello, thank you and turn right! The kids made us gifts of necklaces, rings and bracelets from the leaves around the villages and V even received a very lifelike grasshopper from a little boy who took quite a shine to her.  A bravely warned him off and he got the message.  Some of the children joined us for part of the train ride back and loved every minute of it - they were considerably braver than us and stood up to “surf” along. They’d win hands down if they were to take on the best tube-surfer in London. 

We returned to Battambang town centre and elected to give the other local good causes a boost by getting a massage from the blind masseurs on the high street.  A’s experience of “traditional” massages to date has not been great (we had one each in Krabi and, while V enjoyed it, A concluded that it was like paying to get beaten up!) but we had high hopes for this one.  As it turns out, A’s experience was very similar to his first, “It was like they were torturing me, I wanted to tell them the answers but they didn’t ask me any questions.”  Following what we now refer to as “The Assault”, we witnessed what can only be described as the live version of the BT internet adverts from the UK - a full family sat round an iPad smiling and joking with whoever was on the other end of the call asking them to pull faces and having a cracking old time - it was very heart warming and quite entertaining to watch. 

For breakfast the following morning we had some delicious mango jam, apparently homemade by the owner/ chef who was also being filmed by a local TV crew in a promotional video for the hotel.  We were as cool as ever in our roles as “man and woman eating breakfast” and only slightly strained our necks trying to get into shot.

To get to Phnom Penh and still suffering with the after effects of our “scenic boat trip”, we decided to splash out and take a taxi directly from our Battambang hotel to the Cambodian capital - this proved to be a great decision.  We were driven door to door in comfort by Cambodia’s answer to Jenson Button (although we are not sure that even JB could have  avoided all of the craters in the roads as skillfully as our taxi driver!) and arrived relatively fresh to start our sightseeing in Phnom Penh.

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Kat on

So jealous. Just caught up on about the past month while sitting waiting for a doc in the office - you guys def have the right idea.

Congrats to Andy on the engineering thingmy. Drinks all round when you get back to celebrate!

londongirl27 on

Hope you're not working too hard (silly comment, I know). Just focus on your long holiday, sorry "sabbatical", next year! Looking forward to drinks when return. A lot of catching up to do!

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