Bamboo Trains and Gecko Café Lounging

Trip Start Sep 05, 2010
Trip End Aug 21, 2011

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Where I stayed
Banan Hotel

Flag of Cambodia  ,
Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Neither of us were two chirpy this morning! 6 days off heavy miles had maybe caught up with us but we packed and dressed for cycling anyway, knowing that the 70 miles to the border town of Poipet would be head down and get on with it. Breakfast felt too good, the omelette and fresh baguette in a wonderful Khymer setting was just begging us to stay.  The local moto driver who had been given the green light to try and chat us up, had done a very good job.  We had to take the day off, so we did!  And it was brilliant.

We did the name thing with our driver, he grasped Michael very well but Polly was another matter.  He went for Molly and then later Colin.  He was a lovely man, typical of all Cambodians we have interacted with.  He whizzed us down the riverside street pointing out the French colonial buildings explaining how many of them have government protection (a listed building sort of arrangement).  He then took us out to a village where we had the privilege of visiting a traditional Cambodian wooden house.  Used by The Khymer Rouge as a community kitchen the family house was now occupied by a lovely old lady.  On arrival she asked if we were French or English.  She was only able to speak French which was fine as we understood most of the commentary  She talked us through many interesting Khymer traditions including how to maintain good oral hygiene and how to prepare flour. It was a great way to spend an hour and another demonstration of how wonderfully welcoming the Cambodians are.

Back in the wagon we went on to the much anticipated bamboo trains.  After a very well rehearsed briefing from the Tourist Policeman we hopped onto which was literally a bamboo sheet on a couple of wheels (see video).

Powered by a 6HP motorbike engine we hurtled along a track which was far from smooth.  You got the impression that these guys do not cancel trains ever, snow on the tracks/leaves on the line, never.

The first head to head was efficiently dealt with.  Off we got, the carriage was lifted off, the wheels removed and the other train passed.  Then we reconstructed the train, rope pulled the engine and we were off.  It did not take us long to reach a small station and it was much less hassle than any UK train ride (not one nutter drinking Strongbow in sight).

At the stop we enjoyed mango with a lovely mother and daughter team and had a good chat with a guy from the US.  The little girl then insisted on showing us the nearby brick factory which was far from fascinating, although for a six year old she was a fantastic tour guide. She did get bored and wander off for a bit, but then made a chicken out of some mud and gave it to us as a gift.

We did the return trip without any deconstructing and sat back to enjoy the rickshaw ride back into Battambang. We stopped to have another look at the big black statue on the way into town. Our tour guide told us it was a statue of a man who had a special magic stick which he threw at a cow for some reason. He then lost the stick, and hence the town is called 'Lost Stick Town' or 'Battambang' in Cambodian. I think some of the story may have got lost in translation!

Back at the hotel we took their bikes out to Gecko Café.  3 hours later after some good refreshment we are fairly concrete about our route down through Thailand.  We have picked out the places to go and scribbled notes on the map. 

The day didn’t really get much tougher.  After some down time back at the hotel we took the bikes to find a restaurant set on the river.  It didn’t look much when we arrived but after removing our shoes (it felt like we were entering a Cambodians home) and climbing the stairs we found the most beautiful setting.  It was a traditional Cambodian wooden house, very much like the one we had visited earlier in the day.  The top floor balcony riverside was decorated with fairy lights and it made for one of the best restaurants I can remember.  On the ride back to the room we found a petrol station which had a ‘Bonjour’ shop.  The pictures of coffee and croissants was very untypical of Cambodia and sure enough we found some good ice creams in the freezer. 

We seem to have mastered this day off cycling business.  Back in Europe, in places like Vienna and Belgrade, I remember trying to do so much sightseeing on our days off that we felt more exhausted when we got back on the bikes.  Now we are well travelled enough to know that the sightseeing should be done in a short burst in the morning leaving the afternoon to sit back in cafes.  Excellent.

Miles cycled: 1 to Gecko Cafe

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