Battambang is west of Siem Reap, and after being a little let down by the Cambodian cities its a nice relief to hit a smaller town. Initially I had only decided to visit because I was told that it was an easy place to get a Vietnamese visa (it really is, only one day), but there are still things to see here in your short waiting time. There’s a mini museum and a free walking tour of the old architecture that’s available to download as a PDF, but the number one uniquely Battambang sight is the nori, or the bamboo train.
Although they used to be used as genuine goods transport this is definitely just a tourist attraction now – still a fun one though! There isn’t a destination anymore, you just go up the track, stop briefly for a drink and enjoy the ride back. The ‘train’ is really just a flimsy bamboo raft perched on top of one wheel axis and attached to another by what seems to be nothing but a motor and a rubber band – if there’s nothing in your way they go pretty fast, apparently up to 40 miles per hour, but I’m glad they didn’t test that for us!
I walked on my own to the train, but then met Jyah, Moa and Rachael who invited me to spend the rest of the evening with them as they were on a tour to see some of Battambang’s spaced out sights – had to be more fun than sitting on a bamboo plank on my own! This by the way is currently my fifth pair of sunglasses. I could set up a photo album at this point entitled ‘various sunglasses I no longer own’. No idea where I left pair number 4.
The strangest part is when you run into another cart coming the other way. Everyone hops off and stands at the side while the drivers lift the platform off the wheels, then chuck the wheels off the track before putting it back together again after the other cart had passed – this happened at least four times each way!
Plenty of time for the local kids to mess about on the bridge while the trains are passing each other!
We also visited two caves in the area. Not a very nice story for the first cave I’m afraid, this is another Khmer Rouge killing site where they used to drop bodies through the hole in the cave’s roof to rot out of sight. The temple at the top is now part temple, part memorial.
The second was the BAT CAVE! Our driver warned us not to spend too long at the temple at the top as the bats would appear at six thirty.
At six thirty, on the dot (because bats use alarm clocks obviously) thousands and thousands of tiny bats come swarming out in search of food. Probably mosquitoes. Yay, thank you bats! We were told that there are so many of then that it takes over half an hour for them all to leave the cave.
On the way back to battambang we stopped to watch then sweeping around the fields in flowing patterns like sparrows or schools of fish until the light disappeared.
And just in case you were worrying that I was about to go all poetic on you, I’d like to let you know that I found out further south that the expat community knows battambang as Bottom Bang for its gay scene. Always useful to find out these things.