So much for shall return in a moment! Needed a breather, went out for a chat, and returned to find the internet connection gone, baby, gone.. Back now on Sunday the 19th having slept away most of yesterday and last night under the influence of some meds with huge sedative properties! Decided to only take one of my tabs this morning, as am feeling a bit better, and want to see how I travel as I have booked myself on the am boat to Siem Reap tomorrow morning. Hopefully all will be hunky dorey by then. In the meantime lets get this story finished.
Bada Bing! Battambang! (Part 2)
The Royal has loads of moto drivers who loiter either in the reception area or at the front door, so as per usual, there is little need to go scouting about for someone. The benefit of these guys is you know they have good English - why runaround town just to find someone a coupla bucks cheaper who aint gonna have the other skills necessary for a good day out.
Anyway my dude's name was Bunnak - a 32 year old local, taking some time out from his business degree to make a little money, basically so that he can finish his degree! Also, I think he quite enjoys the life as it is, taking the barang about, having beers and happy smokes! The Khmers have the longest bloody New Years festivities, they drag on for about a week. This was on Thursday when things were really in full swing. The good thing about that is that while the museums etc are closed, of course the temples are throbbing with local activity. Everyone is out and about in their finery.
We arrived quite early at out first pit stop, Phnom Sampeau, a temple complex upon a mount. Bunnak dropped me off and gave me directions to take the surfaced road to the top, and about halfway along I would find an entrance to the left which would take me to the Killing Caves. Yeah sure. There were a couple of roads to the left and not wanting to walk uphill for miles in the wrong directions, I decided that neither of these could be correct cos they just didnt feel that way. Hmmm, well both were of course correct, which I was to discover when I hired a little man for 50 cents to be my little tourist guide to the caves. he was quite cute, hanging about when he neednt. Once I knew my way I was quite happy for him to disappear and tried to demonstrate that, but he just wouldnt have it, staring at me inquisitively. Anyway the caves contain the remnants of bones of people who were bludgeoned on the hill above the cave and then dropped into the abyss. There is also a smallish cave temple with a nice little Monk who was performing some sort of ceremony as I arrived, relinquishing the usual gallons of sweat that pour effusively from my pores the moment I cease all physical activity. Gotta love that! Usuallly takes about 10 minutes for that to calm down...Anyway my little man dropped me back at the main road once I was mentally prepared for the rest of the trip up and away I went.
Once I reached the top there were the usual households and temples and a stupendous view of National Highway number 10 where I had ingested serious quantities of Cambodian Snow AKA Dust! Apparently the road is in the process of becoming surfaced. Bring it on! Made my requisite donation to the Monks, took some happy snaps and then proceeded to get lost again. Down the stairs I went (thinking, these must be the stairs which Bunnak told me to take to come down), being filmed by girls with mobile phones as I ascended. is this what it is like to be famous? Could do without it. Huffing and puffing and sweating, whilst all the while they hold their phones in your direction, smiling charmingly. How many photos and clips am I in right across Asia? Don't the relo's ask "Who is this random, standing with you at the waterfall/mountain/temple???" Anyway. long story short, i ended up doing a circuit. So took time out when I reached the drink vendors, grabbed a Coke and asked for directions. It was really so simple. On the way down some vociferous old man latched onto me and wouldnt let go for dear life. I felt duty bound to allow him but really had to reclaim ownership of my arm when we reached the bottom.
From here we headed to Phnom Banan, five temples atop a hill which are reached by 358 steps according to LP. I shall have to take their word for it. They also said the road to the previous one was 1km, and my man Bunnak said there were about 800 steps down, so do the math! And factor in the heat! Sweaty boy! Lots of sweaty locals too, clearly finding the whole process quite troublesome and weary. Nice to see. They say the five temples were the inspiration for Angkor Wat. Pretty basic inspiration one would say. But the surrounds were cool, crumbling temples, stone holding up stone in the shade of some looming trees. Lots of activities going on, with people worshipping and praying, picnic-ing, finding the barang fascinating! Nice fascination though. Lots of smiles!
After a bite to eat we headed for the Battambang Bamboo Train all the while zooming through villages filled with celebrations including the dodgy water throwing - which I was told has only been introduced via Thailand in the last few years. Involves mostly throwing water bombs or else water from some sort of receptacle. The water was a welcome relief from the heat but didnt happen nearly enough this day (that was sorted out the day after, more to come....). There was also the impromptu dance party blocking the way with all the kids out to get on down, strange papier mache figures accompanied by a band in a wagon and lots of good time activities. Good times indeed! Well we eventually made the Battambang Bamboo Train on which I am going to briefly rely on LP to explain...
Each train "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..." It seems apparent that the line will soon be upgraded so that real train services can resume in Cambodia and rail links between the neighbouring countries can be re-established, so this is one rail journey not likely to be around for very much longer. When Bunnak asked if I wanted to do this, I had no hesitation at all. The actual use of the bamboo trains, practically speaking, is to transport the locals and all their goods between villages. For me it was just a bit of fun, rattling along at (apparently) 15 kms an hour, under the broad Cambodian sky..The driver put down a little mat for me and a couple of cushions which didnt really soften the blow of all those kerthumps! Up a distance and then back. 6 bucks for about half an hour for the Barang. Certainly worthwhile.
On the way back to the hotel (after about 7 hours out and about) Bunnak pointed out a local riverside restaurant where he sometimes took people and suggested we could go there the next day. It looked the very definition of idyllic, and when he suggested we could eat, drink and enjoy happy smokes in the morning, followed by getting involved in the last day of the water throwing, who was I to think otherwise? It seemed like a plan. So i went up to my room where I washed the Cambodian snow from my body and clothes, grabbed my book and headed to the rooftop restaurant where I spent the next four hours finishing my book in absolute peace, gazing at the sky and feeling very happy to be in this part of the world. All was well in my world....Then I woke up with a niggling sore throat which I studiously ignored as I had an appointment with Bunnak and more adventures to be had!