Cambodia – Battambang
We arrived in Battambang in the torrential rain and by the time we had finally made it to our hostel we were completely soaked through, it was dark, and we were starving. We made a dash for a local restaurant and then explored a few streets (there are only five in total!) of the tiny town. It is approaching the low (rainy) season, and Battambang is a little off the beaten track at any time of year, so it was eerily quiet after the chaos of Siem Reap.
Luckily, the next day was bright and dry and we got up early to head to the Smoking Pot, where we had arranged to take part in a cookery course. I’m not normally too fussed about cooking, but our hostel (a hilarious and slightly frustrating Fawlty Towers style shambles) had served us ‘toast and jam’ that turned out to be bread and strawberry jelly (like actual jelly), so I was ready for a proper meal.
Our teacher led us and four other students (who were all on their gap years and made me feel so old!) through the market as he gathered the ingredients for lunch. The market, filled mostly with locals, was huge and sprawling and sold everything from gold jewellery to skinned frogs (grilled to your preference). From the piles and piles of fresh fruit and veg Yana chose bundles of lemongrass, root ginger, handfuls of chillies, long runner beans, aubergine and leaves of basil which smelt amazing. He also chose a fish (which the seller promptly bludgeoned to death and hacked into pieces, then put into a bag) and we watched desiccated coconut being squeezed through a machine until creamy coconut milk poured out. We brought it all back to the Smoking Pot (I somehow ended up carrying the parts of the fish) and took our places behind our chopping boards.
We made a curry paste from lemongrass, ginger and garlic and steamed the paste together with fish inside little ‘boats’ we made from banana leaves. Mine kept leaking all over the steamer so Yana had to make another one for me and that is probably why it was delicious. I have the best intentions to make this dish as soon as I get back, but, well… we’ll see… 😉
I was really keen to see rural Battambang so we asked our tuk tuk driver for a bit of a magical mystery tour and he happily sped off, taking us on a bumpy ride through the rice fields towards the famous bamboo railway. We hadn’t been planning to ride but couldn’t resist having a go and were soon hurtling through the forest on the little bamboo platform atop four rickety wheels, zigzagging violently from side to side whenever we hit a part of the rails that had been wonkily repaired (which was often). There’s only one set of rails, so when we came across a car heading towards us, our driver jumped off, lifted the wooden platform off the tracks, took apart the axels and the engine and waited for the other car to pass before quickly reassembling it again, while Kati and I looked on in surprise.
We were soon on our way again and arrived triumphantly at the other end to be immediately greeted by a group of sweet kids who wanted to show us around their village, have us pet their dogs, learn our names and then sell us bracelets with the ruthless efficiency of seasoned salesmen. Let’s just say that you’re all receiving bracelets as gifts this Christmas because those kids are good! I loved how they all seemed to have their own bracelets which they had made and their own little business strategies – which was predominantly being cute and saying that the bracelets go with my eyes 😉
After being throughly covered in bracelets, we had just made it back to the train when the heavens opened and hot heavy rain began pouring down on us. We sheltered under the tin roof of their homestead for a while but eventually had to wade through the deep muddy puddles and climb back on the train. The kids found our predicament wildly hilarious and as they waved us off, huddled on the train in our flimsy dresses and flip flops, I could definitely see the funny side. Five minutes later our car stopped so that the driver could cut away some branches that were overhanging the tracks and Kati and I sat and waited in the pouring rain (luckily we’re British so this comes naturally to us) wondering how exactly we had ended up sitting on a bamboo train in the middle of Cambodia and we both erupted into half crazed laughter. We had to disassemble our car again to let a horde of ponchoed tourists pass, and as we were waiting on the side of the road a little boy came racing out of one of the houses, practically screaming with excitement and proceeded to high five us, jumping in the air and chuckling with glee. His sister soon joined him and I’m sure the four of us would have happily passed the rest of the day enthusiastically high fiving each other if we didn’t have a bamboo train to catch.
When we finally made it back we were soaked to the bone and freezing cold and were glad to clamber off the train into our tuk tuk, wrapping ourselves in scarfs and cardis but still feeling very soggy!
Our tuk tuk driver pressed on (rain poncho flapping in the wind) and we drove along muddy roads while I sulked about how cold I was and suspiciously eyed all of the cows we passed. Luckily the cows here are pretty skinny so they could probably still trample me but they might have to jump up and down a bit or get their cow friends to help them out. At one point our driver suggested that we get out and walk across a suspension bridge that crossed a fast flowing river. It was incredible and we got to see ur fishermen, waist deep in the water, casting their nets into the current. We even saw a tree full of fruit bats which is something I never thought I’d see! They looked like proper vampire vats, hanging upside down with their knobbly wings wrapped around their huge bodies! At this point I was still pretty soggy and grumpy but we braved the rain in a little fishing village and walked along the river. The kids seemed so happy to see us, it really cheered me up. They waved shyly at first, and then started giggling as I made a show of slipping around in the mud in my flip flops.
We saw so much of Battambang, it was amazing, I just wish it had been a little less rainy! That night a thirteen hour journey (more on that later) took us all the way to Sihanoukville so I’ll be writing my next update sipping cocktails on the the beach!