In an effort to keep you all interested in this blog despite the fact that you have real lives with real jobs and real babies, I’m going to try just telling you about Battambang using photos.
As an introduction, I met Nit (pronounced “Not”) when he took me from the “not considered safe by international standards” boat to my guesthouse in Battambang. We arranged that he’d show up at the guesthouse at 9am the next morning for a full day of seeing the area surrounding the town of Battambang. The morning of the trip I met Daley eating breakfast and we decided to do the trip together.
“Battambang” translates into something like “lost stick.” It’s said that a cow herder in town found a stick made of rosewood and realized that it had magical powers. If he threw it in the direction of his herd, they moved in any way he wanted and his job was significantly easier. Eventually he used the stick to overthrow the current ruler, sending him away and sending his son to hide out in the forest.
One night former-cow-herder-turned-ruler had a dream that he would only rule for seven years, seven months and seven days before being overthrown by a religious man riding on a white horse. He probably could have just said, “seven years, seven months and a week,” but I guess that doesn’t have the same ring.
After having the dream he made an attempt to avoid the overthrow by inviting all the holy men to his house with the intention of killing them. The former ruler’s son who spent his days in the forest becoming a monk (and also becoming quite sick) decided he wasn’t one to miss a party and set off for the town. On the way, he met up with a hermit monk who insisted that he take his white horse. The former ruler’s son got on the horse and realized he was cured and felt fantastic. Awesome!
He continued to ride into town and when former-cow-herder-turned-ruler saw him he realized the jig was up. In one last ditch attempt to keep his thrown he threw the magic stick. The stick didn’t work against the former ruler’s son and former-cow-herder-turned-ruler escaped, but without the stick.
It is said that the stick landed somewhere on the banks of the O’Dambong River which is where Battambang stands today.
The plan for the day went something like this:
- Stop for Michelle to buy $3 sunglasses with “SUPER” on one lens (great sunglasses – wearing them this very minute)
- Ta Dambong Kranhoung statue at the entrance to Battambang (people make wishes here)
- Bamboo Train (perhaps a highlight of Cambodia for me?!)
- Golden Gate Bridge (a rickety bridge over the river that vaguely resembles its namesake)
- Fruit bats in a tree (there they were)
- Cambodia’s only winery (they also make brandy and grape juice)
- Phnom Banon (located at the top of 385 very steep steps)
- Phnom Sameau (used as a Khmer Rouge killing area for Battambang)
- Bat cave (perhaps the highlight of my life?!)
Ta Dambong Kranhoung Statue: While here we saw two cars pull up – a Mercedes filled with men and women dressed really nicely and a Toyota driven by a woman who brought out a bunch of blankets. Both groups went to the statue and Toyota woman spread out the blankets on top of the already existing blankets for the Mercedes group to kneel on. Toyota’s job was to bring the blankets. Nit told us that people make wishes here, asking for things to come true and promising to come back with something if it does. He said university students will come asking for a good grade on a test and when they get it they come back with roasted pig head. Seems like a very fair trade off.
Bamboo Train: I absolutely LOVED this. Nit took us to the “station” and for $5 (I thought $3 would have been a fair price, but the driver does work pretty hard) you ride on a bamboo platform to the next “station.” The ride, which is about 25 minutes each way, takes you through great views of the countryside and through some small town. The only complication is that there’s only one track. So, when two meet one of the “trains” needs to be disassembled and removed from the track so the other can pass. The unspoken rule is that the train carrying less passengers is expected to move.
This happened a few times and was funny every time.
If you’re into this sort of thing (“this sort of thing” being things that are SO GREAT) you should make sure to get here within the next year. A more substantial railroad system is expected to replace this one so that actual trains can move things and people around.
Here’s a video of riding the train: VIDEO!
Golden Gate Bridge: I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
Fruit Bats in a Tree: Here’s a picture.
Cambodia’s Only Winery: I never really got the full answer about whether or not these grapes are indigenous to Cambodia, but I’m guessing not. The best I can come up with is that a woman came and gave some grapes to the winery and now they operate a small farm of grapes (and many other fruits) to make wine. Out of the five places I’ve visited in Cambodia and ordered wine, none have offered me Cambodian wine. BUT. The real highlight of this place was the one-day-old puppy living here! See the photos and read below for a surprise twist to this story.
I was so excited about this puppy that I came back to the guesthouse raving about it. I convinced two other travelers to go with Nit the next day to see the sights and made them promise to pet the one-day-old puppy. When I saw them later that night and asked about the puppy, they said something like, “it was okay.” I knew something was up. They finally admitted that the puppy died. A victim of having been sat on by his mother. It’s not easy being a one-day-old puppy with a big mother.
Phnom Banon: The temple looks a bit like a much smaller version of Angkor Wat and locals like to say it was the inspiration. The jury is out on that. It was built in the 11th century and sits very high up, above 358 really steep steps. As Daley and I began the trip a little girl came with us and fanned us the whole way. It was a bit embarrassing that she was able to bound up the steps (and does it multiple times a day) and we were huffing and puffing. We got to the top and the view was great.
Phnom Sampeau: This mountain has a few small temples at the very top. It most easily accessed by a jeep that you can find at the bottom of the mountain. Daley and I split this with two French people and their guide came along for the ride to the top. The views were awesome, but the best part was the guide giving us his opinion on current Cambodian politics. Throughout the day we came across an irrigation system being built. We knew it was funded by the Chinese (they’re doing tons of infrastructure-type projects throughout the country, which ultimately is in their best interest,) but the French guide told us about how the system would allow for more rice to be grown, however who it can be sold to it closely regulated. The Chinese and Vietnamese can buy it, but at a much lower price than is fair. Our guide also feels that the current political system in power (the Cambodia Peoples Party, or CPP, led by Hun Sen with Vietnamese ties) is terrible and speaking out against them is a bad idea. In fact, he wouldn’t talk about it (despite lots of questions) until we were at the top of the mountain in a small area where there were no other Cambodian guides. I wish we could have spoken to him more, but we were on a time table to make sure we saw the bats and the cave so we were off. Next stop at Phnom Sampeau was the Killing Cave. The temples at the top of the mountain were used as Khmer Rouge prisons and as people became sicker and sicker, they would take them and knock them over the head (bullets were expensive so they saved those) and throw them down into a cave. We were led down into the cave (I was ready to leave pretty much immediately) where we saw the area where the bodies piled up and could see a small memorial with bones and skulls. We left and I was glad.
I’ll talk more about the Khmer Rouge when I write about my time in Phnom Penh, but the more you hear about the time they were in power (1975-79) the more horrible it is. This is just one small example of killing that took place. Ultimately a third of the entire population was eradicated. Of this, 95% of all doctors were killed. Almost all teachers were killed. Anyone with an education that could potentially organize a rebellion or want to take revenge against the Khmer Rouge was thought to be a threat and killed. This even included people who wore glasses as they were considered intelligent and/or wealthy.
Bat Cave: Last stop of the day and absolutely awesome. Every day just before sunset, thousands of bats fly out of a nearby cave and head out to find food. This goes on for 40 minutes. It was truly one of the most amazing things I have ever seen in my life.
Here’s a video of thousands of bats: VIDEO!
Until next time, friends and family!