Comedic Start To The Cambodian New Year

Battambang Travel Blog

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Stung Sanker

Yes, it is Cambodian New Year too, and, yes, the comedy continues.

Blearry-eyed, we successfully boarded our 7:00 bus to Cambodia's second biggest city, Battambang, from Phnom Penh. We only had a loose idea of how long it would take from our guidebook - around four to six hours - so we tried to get as comfortable on the sweatbox with wheels as we could. Six hours passed and we started to look at each with worry that we might have missed it. We spoke to an Australian couple who also admitted they were worried that the bus didn't terminate at Battambang, like the Battambang sign on the front of the bus suggested. We checked our map and, sure enough, we had gone past it.

Red Thai curry
We checked where we were with someone who spoke English. We were on the way to the border - the place we had flown to avoid in the first place. We couldn't believe it. Along with the Aussie couple, we departed the bus and invaded yet another water fight (starting to get sick of them now). We felt eyes on us as we knew we didn't really have any reason to be there. A Cambodian Del Boy-type spoke to us and asked us if we wanted a taxi. He gave us the whole 'it will be more cos it's New Year' speech and called us a cab. Fortunately, an hour and an over-inflated cab ride later and we were where we wanted to be. A bit of a relief, to be honest.

The rest of the day was a write-off after that, but the following day we kicked into action with a stroll around Battambang.

All aboard the 4x4 tuk-tuk
Immediately we realised that New Year celebrations here are much like Thailand's, if on a smaller scale, as I was chased by a group of kids and toddlers on the street with waterbombs as kids in the back of pick-up trucks took no prisoners as they pelted them while travelling by at speed. To be honest, there's not really much to see; most of the sights are about 20km out of town, so the highlight of our day was a curry at a restaurant where our waiter was a 12-year-old legend who spoke brilliant English and could total the bill in his head and convert riel into dollars. No chance I could do that.

We wanted to visit some of the wats and temples lying outside Battambang but were advised at our hotel that it would only be possible on a moto (motorbike taxi) because it involved going on country roads that cars and tuk-tuks couldn't get to.

Our monk friend (can't remember his name)
Unsurprisingly, Kyle wasn't having any of it so we agreed that we wouldn't go unless we could find alternative means. Almost inevitably, we found a tuk-tuk driver who said he would and we set off. What we didn't realise was that he would take us on the roads that we were told tuk-tuks couldn't use. And we were almost wishing we had taken the bikes. It was like Fraser Island again. I thought I was going to die several times before we made it to our first stop, Phnom Sampeau. It involved a lot of climbing, which wasn't the best, seen as our tuk-tuk driver told us it was 45C. I wasn't sure if he was right, but I hope he was, cos it's the only justification I can find for being so embarrassingly sweaty all day.

At the summit are a couple of spooky caves with some more remains from the Khmer Rouge's genocidal rule.

Yes, that shine is from sweat
I refrained from taking a photo cos there were a couple of monks studying in the cave - peculiar, I know. There were also good views over the countryside and a gold stupa and numerous Buddhist monuments, too. We met a monk at the top who was keen to practice his English and get a snap. I found it embarrasing having to shake his hand while I sweated so prefusely.

We hit the road in our tuk-tuk once more and headed for Wat Banan, and a climb of 359 stairs to see five limestone towers that resemble the famous Angkor Wat, if a lot smaller. A couple of kids almost forced themselves as guides upon us, even though we felt really uncomfortable being fanned by them. We gave them double what our guidebook suggested and they still had the cheek to ask for more! I couldn't believe it.

Gold Buddha at Phnom Sampeau
Kids!

Then, the highlight. Pretty much just a platform made of bamboo on the rail tracks, attached with a motor, the bamboo train goes at quite a speed. We whizzed along until we saw something the other way, where we had to disembark as quick as we could. The two drivers seemed to find it even more fun than we did, and as soon as we were up and running it started to tip it down. The monk we met earlier had warned us it would start raining at 4:00. It actually started at around 4:20, so he made a fool of himself there.

I've immediately warmed to Cambodia. Mindset completely changes as soon as you arrive and it's easy to go on the defensive when you read about scams and over-priced services for tourists. You have to keep your wits about you, yes, and sometimes the Del Boy-types, the people who perhaps see you as walking dollar signs (they use US dollars here as well as riel), can annoy, beggars, especially amputees, can put you on a bit of a downer as you are told not to give them anything, but the locals who find it a pleasure and sometimes even an amusement to see Westerners more than make up for it. The kids are an absolute treat, always waving or saying hello when they see you, and hostel staff are the nicest we've met so far by a mile. So far so good. Just need to get the actual travelling part right for once.

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Stung Sanker
Stung Sanker
Red Thai curry
Red Thai curry
All aboard the 4x4 tuk-tuk
All aboard the 4x4 tuk-tuk
Our monk friend (cant remember hi…
Our monk friend (can't remember h…
Yes, that shine is from sweat
Yes, that shine is from sweat
Gold Buddha at Phnom Sampeau
Gold Buddha at Phnom Sampeau
How many more?
How many more?
Wat Banan
Wat Banan
You want how much? Scram!
You want how much? Scram!
Wat Banan
Wat Banan
The bamboo train. Monster
The bamboo train. Monster
Phnom Sampeau
Phnom Sampeau
From above Phnom Sampeau
From above Phnom Sampeau
Battambang
photo by: Mezmerized