We finally arrived in Battambang around 7:30, and I was the only foreigner who got off the bus. Strange, since a good majority of the bus was tourists/foreigners. I guess Battambang isn’t a popular stop for tourists.
I got a tuk-tuk to the hostel for $2. As I was checking in to The Place, the receptionist told me that I could do a full or half-day tuk-tuk tour with the hostel.
Although I was tired, I wanted to explore so I went ahead and signed up for the $9 full-day tour. I had about an hour before it would begin.
I got changed, ate breakfast on their rooftop (which was a really sad meal of toast and fake jam), and blogged.
I was still hungry so I went to the nearby market to get fruit– I bought bananas and pineapple.
At 9:30, our tuk-tuk driver arrived and introduced himself as Rich. We got going, and a few minutes into the ride we stopped at a roundabout. Random observation: Cambodians LOVE roundabouts. Every town I’ve visited has at least a few.
This roundabout had the statue of Ta Dumbong, the legend behind the town’s name, in the center.
The story is that Ta Dumbong was a cowherd who found a magic stick (If I can hit once, I can hit twice, I hit the baddest chicks, what what) and used it to overthrow the king. The king’s son, the prince, then decided to go off and become a monk (trust me, this info is relevant to the story). Then Ta Dambong had a dream that a holy man on a white horse would overthrow him, and he decided to have all the holy men killed.
The prince, now a monk, came into town on a flying white horse (dunno why the horse needed to be a flying one). Tam Dambong realized his dream was coming true, and attempted to kill the holy man by throwing his magic stick (Shorty don’t believe me, then come with me tonight, and I’ll show you maaagic). However, he missed and lost the stick. Darn. Hence the name Battambang, which means “lost stick.” Read the full story (sans 50 cent interludes) here.
Next we stopped at the bamboo train. It used to be a functioning track with real trains back in the 80s, but now it just serves as a tourist attraction. It’s like the villagers didn’t want the tracks to be a complete waste of space, so they decided to cobble together this random experience for tourists; You pay $5, sit on a flatbed powered by a motorcycle engine, and some villagers take you a couple kilometers out and back. It was fun and quite beautiful, but also so random.
Next up was a fishing village that is Muslim on one side of the river and Buddhist on the other. I asked our guide why the two are separated, and he said it’s because the Muslims don’t eat meat but the Buddhists do (so I guess the food thing is a big divider?), and also because if you want to marry a Muslim person, you must convert to Islam so it’s more exclusive that way.
A bunch of the Muslim villagers were playing in the water– I again asked Rich why only the Muslims were in the water, and he said it’s because the parents teach their kids to swim, but the Buddhist parents don’t.
He also told us that the farmers here sell their crops to factories in Thailand, which then process and package them and then sell them back to Cambodians for a higher price. It’s a pretty sad situation– I guess Cambodia doesn’t have the money or infrastructure for big factories, so they end up in this situation.
We got back on the tuk-tuk and saw some fruit bats feasting on various fruit, went to a winery, walked through a pagoda, and walked across some super creaky and potentially dangerous bridges before stopping for lunch at Banan Temple.
We decided to climb the 300+ steps to the top of the temple before getting lunch. There were some really cool ancient Angkor-Wat-esque temples at the top. We looked around for a bit and then made our way back down, stopping for fresh sugarcane juice on the way.
For lunch I got some stir-fried vegetables with steamed rice, which was basic but quite good.
When it was time to pay, most of us only had big bills ($10 or $20) and it took our waitress forever to get the change because she had to run around to all the surrounding shops to get the change.
I don’t understand how EVERY SINGLE shop in SE Asia never has change. Everyone uses cash, so it’s not like there’s a lack of cashflow. They always say, “no have change,” or ask if you have any smaller bills. If that doesn’t work, then they have to run around, like this lady did, looking for change. It just does not make sense.
We saw a lady selling $1 smoothies, so me and two girls I had befriended (Emily is Canadian, Katie is English) went to get smoothies.
I got a delicious and MASSIVE mango & banana smoothie.
The smoothies took a while to prepare, so we were initially worried about inconveniencing the group by taking too long, but we needn’t have been worried. We ended up staying there for a while as everyone else went to the same lady to get smoothies after they saw ours.
Our final destination was the big temple called Phnom Sampeau. Of the nine of us, six decided to hire jeeps to get to the temple, which was at the top of a hill. Me and two others decided to walk up. Why pay $3 when you can walk for free? Plus, it was only a 30 minute walk.
We explored the temple for a bit: the first stop was a small temple decorated with beautiful murals. We walked a bit further to the killing caves, where many people were murdered during the Khmer Rouge. Outside the cave is a big sculpture garden with really brutal depictions of the torturing/killing. It was so graphic, it was a bit hard to look at.
We walked up the hill a bit further to a big buddha, then the path continued to a big temple.
The temple had amazing views of the land around us. The area is so flat, you could see really far. It was beautiful.
There were monkeys EVERYWHERE–small, big, young, old– I was so scared because I am a bit scarred ever since my monkey attack debacle.
There were all these little Cambodian boys with sticks, running around and tormenting the monkeys, which I felt a bit bad about. I wish they would just leave the monkeys alone!
We were walking around when suddenly a monk, who we later learned is named Phieng, appeared seemingly out of nowhere and said, “follow me.” So we did, and he took us to some incredible viewpoints.
I am in awe of some people’s pure kindness and generosity. Phieng wanted nothing more than to show us the beauty of the land and expected nothing in return. I am very grateful for his time and knowledge that he gave us.
We headed back down the hill around 5 pm to see the bat phenomenon– everyday at sunset, thousands (maybe even a million) bats fly out of the cave to get food for the night.
We got beers and sat around for a good while, waiting for the bats. They finally started to fly out at 6:15— right at sunset. These bats are quite punctual!
The scene was incredible. A swarm of bats, like a swarm of bees, were flying out of the cave in the same zig-zagging pattern. It was never-ending. It got dark, people were leaving, and they were still flying out of the cave.
We got back in the tuk-tuk and arrived at the hostel around 7. I showered and then got dinner with almost everyone from the tour group.
We went to About The World, a Khmer restaurant owned by the most kind husband & wife. A few people from the group had eaten there the night before, and the wife actually HUGGED them when she saw them. It was adorable.
I was happy to see so many vegan options on the menu. After we ordered our food– I got vegetarian lok lak, which I was super excited about since it’s usually a very meat-centric dish– the husband stayed at the table and chatted with us for a while.
One guy in the group, Nico, got a message from his brother that he and his girlfriend were having a baby. He called his brother, super excited, to see if he was joking or not. He came back to the table and told us that it was really happening. He showed us the ultrasound that his brother had sent him. He then messaged his brother’s girlfriend to tell her congrats. Her reply was, “Do you know something I don’t know?” And that’s when it slowly dawned on him that it was indeed a prank. It was so sad because he was SO excited to be an uncle, and then that excitement totally drained away and became utter disappointment.
My lok lak was delicious, especially with the lemon & black pepper sauce that is unique to Cambodian cuisine.
We checked out the night market after dinner, but there was really nothing to see and it was already closing down at 9:30 pm.
I went back and went to bed while the others chilled on the rooftop for a bit. The night bus exhaustion is real.