Sunday, 22 February 2015

Kep to Battambang

The 'bus station' in Battambang. Our minibus was 2nd from the left

As in the 4000 Islands we could probably have spent another day chilling (it’s a hard life but someone has to do it) but due to Chinese New Year buses and accommodation were getting booked up, to overnight at the ‘One Up Banana’ meant we had to be there on the 19th, this was worth doing as we got our original room rate rather than the inflated New Year one, and they were lovely people. It all felt like going home, both there and at the Taste Budz Indian restaurant. Terrible name, fantastic food and lovely man! I’d written him a good Tripadvisor review, so he was happy, I had a fantastically tender goat biryani so I was happy, all in all a good overnight!

this little feller landed on the window of the bus in Kep while we were waiting to set off...
...and attempted to hang on in high wind, aligning himself with the wind direction!
Arrived in Battambang feeling a bit jaded, why more on this than any other recent journey who knows? Despite this we decided to go to the circus. The training is done here at a mixed arts school that has 1000 students on site every day. We got to see a small proportion of their art on display and available to buy before going to the big top to watch a performance involving juggling, tumbling, trapeze etc. the musicians were also from the school. The show was loosely wrapped in a story about dad back from the troubles needing to be made better by the actions of his children. They were all very young but it was funny and clever and really worth seeing. So a late night for us as we didn’t eat till afterwards, when we are normally heading home!

So worried were we by the irratic nature of the driving - and the fact that he looked like he was going to fall asleep at the wheel at any moment, we watched his eyes through the rear view mirror and, had we seen them closed, were resolved to jump up and scream out! We were glad to safely get to Battambang!
Saro with his tuk-tuk (a modern day stage coach with motorbike instead of horse!)
Our tuk tuk driver who had collected us from the bus and then taken us to the circus was keen for us to join him and his two clients for a day out the next day, we were a little unsure about gatecrashing their trip, but knew it would be cheaper that way! So we introduced ourselves to a very nice Italian couple who didn’t seem to mind at all and off we went.

The symbol of Battambang (or Bat Dambong), Bat meaning 'lost', Dambong meaning 'stick'
Arriving at the Bamboo Train
First to the bamboo train, which was a train in that it ran on the old railway line (not that a proper train could run on those tracks without derailing every 5 minutes), but there any similarity ended. Lonely Planet describes the train thus: “Each bamboo train - known in Khmer as a norry (nori ) - consists of a 3m-long wood frame, covered lengthwise with slats made of ultra-light bamboo, that rests on two barbell-like bogies, the aft one connected by fan belts to a 6HP gasoline engine.”

A level crossing! The track leaves something to be desired!
The line is only single track, but this is no problem as when you met one coming the other way whichever has less people or the least number of trains in a row just took the platform off, threw the wheels to the side while the other went past! I assumed we’d all take turns at this, but the drivers did it and when B tried picking up the wheels he was quite pleased as they were quite heavy!

When we meet someone coming the other way our 'train' is taken to pieces...
We wave them through...
Once we got to the end we were accosted by people trying to sell things, small children with friendship bracelets, I bought one but got into terrible trouble as “I saw you first but you didn’t buy from me” “I gave you a grasshopper (woven from some grass) but you didn’t buy from me” “you wouldn’t buy from me because I’m a boy” “I offered two for a dollar (I paid $1 for 1) and you didn’t buy from me” I’d bought the only pink and black one I could see, but apparently this was no justification! B had got suckered into a coconut, while our Italian lady bought bracelets and a scarf from an old lady! Then they all started on “you tip your driver….”

then our 'train' is reconstructed. The wheel axles are placed on the rails, our driver and the driver of the last train to pass picks up the 'carriage'...
Place it on the axle bearings...
From there we went to a temple with a huge Buddha which was interesting enough, but talking to Saro our driver more so. On to a bridge, which I was less interested in than the kitten I thought was dead in the dogs mouth! When I went over though he let go and despite being slightly damp and dirty the kitten seemed to have suffered no ill effects. He did come across the bridge with us and obviously liked the attention!
We stopped at Cambodia’s only winery, where they are lucky in that they can have three grape harvests a year! It sells for $15 a bottle and the locals love it, and the whole winery idea. We however were glad we only paid the $2 to taste it and the grape juice and ginger drink as it was a little rough around the edges! Not bad though considering they learnt everything from the internet or books!

And reconnect the belt to the engine! For engineers reading this, the engine is on a slider mechanism, controlled by a length of wood on a lower pivot. As the driver pulls the wood in the pivot it pulls the engine back to tension the belt and engage the drive
Oh, and this is the brake. A plank of wood above the wheel!
Finally got to a big temple and a stop for lunch which was cheap and pleasant, our Italian friends however like the long relaxed lunch, while our guide could see time ticking away. I had some entertainment however as a mum cat and 4 kittens seemed to live in the tarpaulin roof and in the rain gutters of the restaurant!

We were quite impressed by the temple dating back to the 11th Century, but we haven’t been to Siem Reap yet! This apparently came first and is what some of what we will see was based on.

Some of the rail sleepers weren't in particularly good condition on this old French built railway, like these old wooden ones on the bridge. Still we were only travelling at a fast jogging pace, so we probably wouldn't be hurt much if it drailed
A bit of maintenance wouldn't go amiss!
A rough road to the last temple (though our ticket covered three, the middle one may have had to be jettisoned) which was very impressive as we could see on the way in. As we were on a time constraint however rather than walk Saro phoned the jeep driver who came scarily fast down the hill to collect us to take us firstly to the ‘Killing Cave’ which had three points of entry from the top, so apparently one was used for men, one for women and one for children who were blindfolded and smacked on the back of the head to make them fall in, whether the smack or the fall killed them who knows! 

A bit of metal fatigue on this wheel!
The old temple was used as a prison, so had some nice new artwork to cover up the blood that had been all round the walls, so now there is a new temple too. The jeep whizzed us up there where we could stand and look over the countryside at the approaching rainstorm! This however wasn’t our time constraint, though would have an effect. Back into the jeep as the heavens opened, we were really glad we’d been late and paid the $3 as we drove back down past very wet people, all going to watch the bats fly from the bat cave. Fortunately the rain stopped for us to observe this spectacle, hundreds of thousands of bats streaming out of a cave all acting as one. This can go on for up to an hour apparently, but the rain was coming back and the sun was setting, so we headed off stopping for more photos with everyone else. A fabulous end to a great day out.

Arriving at the final station. The lines continued on, but weren't used
Jackie get mobbed to buy a bracelet
Back for a quick shower as we were sweaty and dusty and now wet and muddy too. Listening to the rain outside we thought we’d eat in the hotel. Apparently not, they stop at 1700, so back upstairs to get raincoats and back to shorts (less to have to dry!) we headed out to some stalls by the riverside, probably wouldn’t have been our first choice but were remarkably cheap and really very nice and the closest place to buy food!

And mobbed
Best to leave her to it - ah, I see they have hot coffee here...!
Today we did a very hot self-guided walk around the architecture of Battambang and struggled with the heat. This does not bode well for the temples of Angkor Wat to come! I’m also feeling a bit deflated as we seemed to be getting all the right vibes from a housesit in Kuala Lumpur in April, only to get an email saying she’d messed up the dates, and already committed to the April one, and only had the June one left, which is no good to us! Oh well, there is still the possibility of one in Penang instead, so keep everything crossed for us for sitting for Doug the Pug!
The next temple visit
And Jackie rescues a lovely little cat from the jaws of a dog
Fishing boats of the river. In the rainy season (July/August) the water level is apparently right up to the top of the bank and sometimes beyond, flooding the village (and over the bridge in the previous photo)

Saro shows us a very big aubergine (or egg-plant). He was born in 1980, a year after the Khmer Rouge were ousted by the Vietnamese, his father was the only member of his family to survive. His father received no education, he only received rudimentary education, he now has a 5 month old daughter and is determined she will receive a good education and do all the things he won't be able to do

At Cambodias only vineyard

This is the stuff, it's a Shiraz grape. Remember the name, it's...very average, but considering he learnt everything only from books and the internet he's not done a  bad job. It won't win any prizes though!

A chicken quietly pecking away at a coconut, right next to a very big knife! Be careful little chicken!
Jackie finds some little kittens of the roof at the temple

It looks like a long walk up those three hundred odd steps in the hot afternoon sun

But the Banan Temple was worth it, albeit looking a bit crumbly and unsafe

Approaching Phnom Sampov with the 'killing caves' and the 'bat cave'

A 'selfie' on the mad jeep drive up the Phnom Sampov
The temple on the top that was used as a prison by the Khmer Rouge. The building to the right was used as a torture chamber prior to people being taken to the caves behind and murdered

Families happily walking to the killing caves. Think of the people whom went this way less than 40 years ago!
At this cave babies were murdered and thrown in
At the bottom of the cave where men were murdered and thrown in. Women had their own cave further on

Remains of some of the victims
One of the guns used by the Khmer Rouge to defend the hill, now manned by monkeys. The whole area was land mined to prevent access for some considerable time afterwards

6:00pm, just before sunset at the bat cave, as the constant stream of bats flew out

And off into the evening beneath storm clouds
Clouds of bats on their evening foray. An amazing sight and all from one cave!
At 90 degrees to the bats a fabulous sunset was going on, which way to look! Maybe watching out for the traffic would be a start!
Some French colonial architecture on our walk today

And some quite amazing temples

This is Battambang railway station, built by the French in the 1930's. It's on the main line between Phnom Penh and the border with Thailand and on to Bangkok. An important railway you would think....

This is on the platform. Our guide said 'scheduled for reopening in 2014'. sadly it's a long way from that!

This is the 'Royal Bungalow' in Battambang, last used by the King in 2007

This little fellow appeared from under a chair in a cafe we stopped at for an iced coffee. He seems pretty harmless

The 360 degree rooftop area at our Seng Hout Hotel in Battambang. You order from the menu and ring down for it (except Jackie had to go and collect!)
'Here the Manu' that we order from. It made us laugh as one of our friends is called Manu. He gets everywhere!

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