Around Battambang

Battambang Travel Blog

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The killing caves
Last night at the Smoking Pot we had noticed some good western style breakfasts so headed there this morning.  Unfortunately it didn't open until 9.30am so we were out of luck.  Fortunately a moto driver who was nearby and spoke some English, said he knew a place that did western food so we both hopped on.  When we got there he asked if he could join us, and of course we ended up paying for his breakfast too!  He told us about an English class that he ran back at his village and asked if we would come.  We arranged to meet him on Monday.  As he dropped us off one of our moto drivers came over to him and started a bit of verbal aggro - from what we guessed, he was warning him that we were his property!

After breakfast we set off, Emma on the back of Jai's moto, Diane on the back of Nita's.
Inside the stuppa at the end of the cave is the bones and skulls that were collected from in the caves
  Within five minutes we were in the countryside, driving down small dirt tracks that took us through some lovely villages.  The thatch roofed houses were built on stilts with hammocks slung underneath.  Dirt yards were swept clean and dotted with palm trees, banana trees and big dome shaped haystacks.  Roaming between houses were ox, cows and hens with broods of fluffy chicks.  Children waved in delight and shouted "hello" (some were confused and shouted "goodbye"), a refreshing change to the many children we had seen selling things and begging over the last couple of weeks.  The fields were brown and waiting for the start of the rainy season in June, when farmers could sow their next crop of rice.  Meanwhile plenty of other things were growing, including straw mushrooms, corn, oranges, pineapples, mangos and coconuts.
The fantastic view of the rice fields of Battambang Province. During the rainy season this whole area is a lush green


Our first stop was Wat Phnom Sampeau - a hilltop temple.  As we approached the hill our moto drivers pointed out a huge Buddha that was being carved onto the mountainside - apparently it will take 7 years to complete.  At the bottom of the hill we got an English speaking guide.  Our moto drivers had told us it would cost $2.  We were to find out that today would be a day of giving many generous donations.  First stop was to pay $2 to the tourist police in order to go up the hill.  Then, a brief discussion with our guide and we agreed we would pay him $5 - not too bad we thought.  We set off walking up the hill.  By now it was about 10.30am and it was hot, very hot.  Never have we sweated so much in all our life.
A big Buddha
  The guide was obviously keen and used to this heat as he was walking us at a fast pace.  On the way up he chatted with us about himself - how he goes to school to learn English and Thai.  It didn't take him long to tell us how much it cost - just $10 for a month, maybe we would be generous enough to pay for one month of his education.  There were many references throughout the morning as to how much things cost and how we might be able to help.

Half way up the hill we reached what has become known as the killing caves.  We visited a temple that had been used as a prison by the Khmer Rouge.  Then into the cave where about 10,00 people were killed.  Inside you could see a sky lit hole where people were bludgeoned or knifed to death before falling into the cave.
The new temple on the mountain
  There was a stupa that had been filled with all the bones and skulls of the victims.  Another sombre reminder of Cambodia's past.  Out of the cave and we were asked to make another donation - this time to help with repairs to the temple and for improvements to the road up to it.  We continued to the top of the mountain, giving money to a begging nun on the way.  Almost at the top and we stopped at a viewing area that gave fantastic views of the surrounding countryside.  Rice paddy fields as far as the eye could see.  As it's the dry season it was all brown and looked just as you would imagine the plains of Africa to be.  Come the rainy season and the whole area turns a lush green.  Right at the top of the mountain was a new temple and stupa.
Wat Banan
  Inside the temple was quite strange.  All other temples we had been in had intricate paintings telling various stories.  This one had been painted cartoon style in fluorescent looking paint.  It was certainly striking.  We left the top and headed down the many steps to the bottom.  Almost there and our guide said we could pay him here.  We offered him $7 as we were reluctant to give him $10 just because he had asked for it.  He did the pitiful look and asked for three more.  We said no.  It was quite frustrating and somewhat tainted what would have been a good informative guide of the mountain.  This is something we have had to accept however, that westerners are just seen as rich and to the locals we have endless supplies of money.
The view from Wat Banan


Next stop was Wat Banan, about a 20 minute ride away.  Diane's driver chatted with her about the Khmer Rouge.  He said that both his parents had been killed by them.  He couldn't explain why it all happened, he felt that they just took a disliking to certain people and killed them.  Before we went up the mountain Jai bought us some sugar cane juice to share.  As the canes were being pressed we tried to ignore the hundreds of flies that were buzzing around.  We also tried to ignore the crushed one at the bottom of our cup as we sipped it.  We also ignored the fact that it was full of ice - ice we were sure was probably made from river water - or something equally dodgy.  The sugar juice was very good by the way, very sweet and refreshing.
On the Bamboo Train. It may look basic but it is actually quicker than the proper train in Cambodia!


We eventually tackled the steps up to the Wat.  It was hot and tiring but we made it.  After all the temples of Angkor it was a bit same same.  What made it impressive was its location - situated on top of a hill with views of the surrounding countryside.  There were loads of children up there all practising their English with us.  They enjoyed having their photos took and kept coming back to look at us and ask our names.  They were very cute.

Last stop of the day was the bamboo train.  We pulled up at the side of the train track to catch it.  It seems that at the present time in Cambodia this is the railway system.  We asked if there was another track for the real train - no it's the same one.  We asked what happens if the real train comes.  Laughing we were told that we don't need to worry, there is only one train a week and it is very slow.  Apparently the bamboo trains are faster than the real train.  We didn't have to wait long before our train was put on the track.  Two pairs of ex-tank wheels, then the bamboo platform on top with the engine at the back.  The motorbikes were loaded on, we sat at the front and off we went.  It was a slightly bumpy but enjoyable ride.  Part way down the track another one was heading right for us.  We wondered whether we just kept going and played chicken but no, both stopped.  Then the other train unloaded everything to let us pass.  Apparently the rule is that the lightest one has to get out of the way.  Apparently this form of transport is on its way out.  Jai told us that when a new track is laid the bamboo train will be no more.  But, judging by the slow rate of development in Cambodia, this shouldn't be too soon.
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The killing caves
The killing caves
Inside the stuppa at the end of th…
Inside the stuppa at the end of t…
The fantastic view of the rice fie…
The fantastic view of the rice fi…
A big Buddha
A big Buddha
The new temple on the mountain
The new temple on the mountain
Wat Banan
Wat Banan
The view from Wat Banan
The view from Wat Banan
On the Bamboo Train.  It may look …
On the Bamboo Train. It may look…
Battambang
photo by: Mezmerized