A few weekends ago I had an express weekend way in Cambodia’s second largest city Battambang. This city is not well renowned as a tourist destination, compared to the temples of Angkor Wat, the tranquility of the islands or the deep history rooted in Phnom Penh. Needless to say, despite the 7 hour journey from Phnom Penh, this city was full of local pleasures and surprises.
Typical of Cambodian transport our bus arrived nearly 2 hours late to our destination and once we arrived so did the heavy rains that are starting to kick off the wet season. The shelter of a tuk tuk, and the demands of limited time meant there was no respite from the rain, heat and humidity and more importantly no time for lunch (a sin for very accustomed expats whom appreciate a solid lunch session likewise to our Cambodian sisters and brothers).
First stop on our express tour was the famous tourist site, Wat Banan, a hilltop temple accessible by 350 steps often compared as being a smaller version of the famous Angkor Wat. It also is host to the bat caves (home to thousands of bats) and the killing fields (during the Khmer Rouge). In terms of the temples. it always amazes me to find these beautiful structures in various points on the mountain. Their ability to construct large temples on cliff edges is impressive and these sites continued to be visited by local Cambodians to this day.
The views as we made our way up the mountain was incredible of the surrounding picturesque rice patty fields. We also came across another Asian treat…..monkeys. For some reason I had a knot in my stomach as we started to encounter them. I had not even thought about monkeys since I arrived in Asia. Their intelligence and unpredictability gives me the creeps. These feelings came into fruition as we reached the top of the mountain and to the last of the temples. There were two really large monkeys getting real cuddly and cosy with each other. We decided it was probably best to stay away why they had their private time. However, this came to the distress of an approaching monkey who I think hissed…. and then started chasing us. Over the years I have seemed to have perfected my flight (not fight) response and moved about 10 meters away from my friend in a split second. Poor thing was left to fend off monkeys on her legs. Thankfully we left relatively unscathed with only a tear in the pants of my friend, no scratches and heightened adrenaline.
The real highlight of my time in Battambang was the city walking tour and the living local tour, run by a company called Free Bicycle Tours. This is a local university student lead company and the tour guides are all studying tourism and do this work to practice their English-speaking abilities. On both tours they demonstrated their love for their city and brought the fun, lightness and cheekiness I have come to know in the Cambodian people.
The walking tour provided great insight to Battambang including the statues and architecture, history of French colonisation, impact of the Khmer Rouge and share many new facets of their culture that I had not seen thus far.
The local living half day bike tour, also continued these themes by sharing the various business pursuits including making rice paper, sticky rice, dried banana/mango, fish paste, rice wine and rice noodle. Each of these spots came with the opportunity to try and make it ourselves (no, no career change for me) and very generous tasting samples. We learnt about the financial costs for the businesses to buy, produce and sell the products and the distribution of the product which often didn’t go far beyond the local community or province. For a very long day’s highly physical work, many times it will make a few dollars a day from the product.
Overall the experience was quite enlightening. I finished the tours with a greater sense of responsibility to consider my attitude towards my own purchasing/food prepping habits while in Cambodia and even back home.