Battambang, Cambodia

Trip Start Feb 11, 2007
Trip End ??? ??, 2008

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Sunday, July 8, 2007

Hello everyone, and greetings from Siem Reap!
I made it safe and sound to Battambang yesterday and although I was only there a short while, it was a great experience.
I arrived by bus from Phnom Penh around 1:00 and quickly found myself place to stay by the Stung Sangker River. After a quick walk around, it was quite easy to notice that, although Cambodia's second largest city, Battambang is worlds away from Phnom Penh. No big city feel here.  Perhaps because it is not that big of a city... Regardless, people use turn signals!  
 Battambang roughly means 'black stick' and is derived from a story involving said stick and a   great king from the distant past. That is as all I could pick up from my driver, but whoever this guy was, the people love him, as they built a massive statue of his likeness in the center of town.  Four times a month (corresponding with the phases of the moon) People come to the statue to leave incense, bananas, lotus flowers, and live birds.  In return, the great king grants good fortune.  It just so happens I was there for one of those days!  Dad, buy a lotto ticket!
Here, the French presence is still quite pronounced, with well preserved French-period architecture lining the riverfront and surrounding area.  Times are tough in Battambang, as with many other parts of the country.  Most of the citizens from around Battambang work as farmers, but money is scarce.  Decent jobs are tough to come by in the city and while secondary education is available, it is much to expense for the masses.  Cambodia's economic disparity is readily apparent here. 
After I arrived, I found myself a good driver, with a propensity toward American catch phrases. Around 2:00, we set out to visit some of the area's temples and the Bamboo Train.....
Wat Ek Phnom is a few kms north of the city and is the cite of an 11th century temple, a massive statue of Buddha and another temple, aged about 100 years.  It was a pleasant moto ride out to the temple and my tour guide gave me a little background about the area and its history.
After some spiritual enlightenment, we stopped for a local favorite, banana and sticky rice, wrapped in a banana leave.  Tasty!  At the roadside stand, I had a little chat with an American fellow whose family had fled Cambodia in the 70's.  It was his first time back.
We then mounted the moto once again to take a wild trip on the Bamboo Train, a mechanical wonder.  The wily Cambodians of the northwest devised a brilliant transport system, unique to the country and the world.  There is an old (really old) rail line running through the province that the locals have used to transport their goods and wares through crafty ingenuity.  However, for a couple of bucks, they gladly take you for and adventurous 25 minute ride.  They take two sets of rail wheels and lay a row of bamboo planks about 4mx2m atop.  They then attach a belt to an outboard motor and whalaa!  Bamboo train.  You can really get moving, but you need a keen eye, as they have no breaks and you will usually encounter someone coming the other way.  You just pick up the planks and the wheels, let the others pass, and set back up again.  Thankfully we didn't have to play chicken with a real train.
This morning, I took a ferry ride to Siem Reap.  What i like about Cambodians is that they do not lie about the time.  They said it would take between 3 and 8 hours, and they were right!  7 hours it was!  What I also like about Cambodians is the fact they train their children to be excellent swimmers from an early age.  This is readily apparent in that none of the ferries feel the need to stock life vests.  It was a great trip, though.  Well worth the time.  We passed these incredible floating villages and got a chance to get a feel for another side of Cambodia.
Well, it is off to see the architectural marvel that is Anchor Wat tomorrow.
Lia suhn hao-y!
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