After we left Siem Reap we headed to Battambang, which resulted in another long bus journey. We were told 4 hours, it actually took nearer 7, two of which were spent just going from our hotel to the bus station only to drive back past our hotel!
Once we got to Battambang, we were met with dozens of tuk tuk drivers willing to take us to our hotel. We picked Bora who told us he would take us to our hotel for free if we wanted him to take us on a tour of Battambang the following day, so we agreed – they make it so easy for tourists out here! We were staying at the King Fy hotel which had a lovely swimming pool and 7 floors, so you could go up to the roof and watch the sunset.
So the day after we arrived in Battambang, Bora picked us up and headed for our first stop – the famous Bamboo train. We’d seen this on a TV programme before we left for our trip but all our research had told us that it would probably be shut down soon due to health and safety – luckily for us it was still running purely for tourists over a small section. We had to pay $10 for the 20 minute journey to the station, a 20 minute stop and then a 20 minute journey back. Sounds quite pricey but how often do you get to ride a train made from bamboo and tank wheels recycled from the last war? Barry was nervous, I on the other hand was excited. Our driver fired up the engine and off we went gaining speed very quickly – these things can go up to 40 mph! It was a bumpy ride and every now and then you would hit a section where the tracks didn’t quite meet and be jolted down. We were just getting some speed up when up ahead we could see another train coming our way – we knew what this meant, we’d seen it in the programme. We were going to have to get off, dismantle the train and wait for the other train to pass by. So this is exactly what happened. We jumped off, our driver along with the help of the driver coming in the opposite direction picked up the bamboo platform and placed it on the side of the tracks. They then picked up the wheels and threw these to the side too. Once the other trains had gone past, it was all put back together again in the matter of seconds. And off we went again hurtling down the track, over wooden bridges and through thick greenery. Once we came to the ‘station’ (really just a few little shacks for shops selling novelty t-shirts and drinks) we jumped off and were met by a woman who took us into her shack. After Barry being so adamant that he wasn’t going to be buying anything, he caved in and we bought a coconut and a coke. It was the biggest coconut we’d ever seen and took some drinking to finish it all. After spending some time looking round the shacks and watching some kids play, it was time to re-board the train and fly down the tracks again. This time we had right of way, so every time another train came towards us we just sat there while everyone else had to get off – this happened no less than 3 times on the way back. Overall I would highly recommend the bamboo train – totally random and something I’m sure you’d never experience anywhere else!
Next stop was Cambodia’s version of the Golden Gate Bridge; a rickety old wooden bridge just narrow enough to fit two people side by side. We started to walk across it and when we got half way, a motorbike decided it wanted to come down so we had to squeeze up against the side and we just about all fitted down. Seconds later another motorbike decided it wanted to come down, but this time it was dragging a trailer filled with bags of food. There was no way this was going to squeeze by us, so we had to run off. An old lady was walking behind us, but this didn’t stop the motorbike from bibbing its horn and revving its engine at her constantly until she’d made it off the bridge.
After the bridge, we went onto a fisherman’s market that was just packing up for the day. Here Bora wanted to show us the fruit bats that live in the trees. We were amazed at how many there were and despite being a fair distance away they looked massive. I wouldn’t want to be around there at night when they’re flying around!
Next we went onto a temple called Phnom Banan. As we got off the tuk tuk and just after we’d purchased our tickets, Bora decided to tell us that to access the temple we had to walk up 358 steps! We knew at this point Bora wouldn’t be coming with us, so our journey up the many steps commenced. We looked up at the start, but you couldn’t see the top as the stairs disappeared behind some trees. Once we reached the trees, we looked up and were met with another load of steps but could still barely see the entrance. We finally made it to the top after feeling like it was never going to happen and were met with the ruins of a temple similar to that of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. Apparently this temple inspired Angkor Wat, so was a mini version. We took some time to walk around and catch our breath before making the descent down the 358 steps.
The last leg of our tour round Battambang was Phnom Sampeau; The Killing Caves and a group of temples. To get here, we had to drive down a dirt track filled with potholes and ditches. It took about half an hour and was non-stop bumping along – a lot worse than the bamboo train. Once there, we then had to hike up a hill as the temples were right at the top, which on the way there looked far too high to reach. After about 10 minutes of hiking in 30 degree heat, we got to the Killing Cave, where we paid a little Cambodian boy $1 to show us round – it helps them to improve their English so it was worth while. The cave was pretty harrowing as the Khmer Rouge Army used the cave to throw bodies down. There was a shrine filled with the bones of some of the victims and a reclining Buddha positioned in the cave as a memorial. After leaving the cave we continued onto the temples. We saw some more Buddha’s along the way and then had to climb a very steep hill to get to the temples. By this time it was so hot and we were knackered, but we finally made it! The views were amazing. We found a little ladder that lead through some of the cliff side. I couldn’t bring myself to go up it, it was far too rickety, but Barry did and was met with even more amazing views. We bumped into a random monkey at one point who decided to follow us down to the bottom. The way down was a lot easier than the way up and was covered by trees, so we didn’t have the heat to contend with.
Bora met us at the bottom and it was time to head back to our hotel. Along the way, we saw a cock fight (chickens, not the other!). Like England, this is banned in Cambodia, but what can you do when two cocks decide to fight each other? Just sit and watch of course…