We were quite glad to escape the heticness of phnom pehn and headed 6 hours west to Battambang. Technically this is cambodia's second largest city, but it feels like a sleepy suburb, partly thanks to the blanket ban on buses and trucks in the city centre.
Luckily for us we took a Capitol bus, which gives a free transfer into the city from the out of town station, and the main office happened to be a block away from our hotel!
On our way to the hotel we got approached by a friendly tuk tuk driver, joking around with us before offering us a tour for the next day, but more about him later.
This city made us realise why we are religiously taking anti-malarial tablets, it was full of bugs. Not the nicest to be walking down the street and get a face full of mosquito. After a dinner of gorgeously cooked veggies and rice (we have both realised that beer might be cheap here, but annoyingly it still contains far too many calories...) we headed back to the hotel to rest up and have our weekly UK TV catch up.
On the second day we took up chin chin the tuk tuk drivers offer of a day tour. There isn't much actually in Battambang, but a lot to see in the surrounding countryside. Turns out all the cash points in the city either rejected our card, or wanted to charge a 10% withdrawal fee, which was a bit awkward seeing we only had $40 between us. Luckily I ended up with a ton of Thai baht left over and the jewellery shops offered a good conversion rate, saving us a few dollars.
Chin chin took us to the bamboo railway, set up in the Khmer Rouge era when villagers want to sneak things without authorities knowing. It's essentially two tracks which the place two runners on and balance a bamboo platform on top, then it's powered by a detectable generator. Very random but great fun to whizz through the countryside at 40km an hour! Until of course you meet a cart going the other way, when one has to be dismantled to let the other through. It's a return trip to a small village, we were advised not to buy from the kids there as it encourages them to skip school to make money. Easier said than done, they are damn cute kids who have picked up the idea of pinky promises!
Unfortunately for chin chin his tire had a whole as we left the city, so as we were on the train he was spending most of his days wages on replacing the tires! He then took us to see clay water pot making, fish paste making (never quite seen fish cut up so brutally - head off, guts thrown out, fish chopped into fillets and thrown to the side - sainsburys would be more interesting if they started doing that!), rice paper making (where we also got the BEST spring rolls for dinner), rice wine making (after which he stopped at a random village stall as we had asked if they ever flavour the wine, to get us to taste one flavoured with tree bark), sticky rice making (which, contrary to Tash's belief, who scoffed the lot, is gross - rice cooked in coconut milk?! Just no) and we also stopped off at a stunning little pagoda which turned out to be yet another khamer rouge killing field.
Later in the afternoon we wandered around elk pagoda, which is now in ruins, giving us a taster of what's to come in siem reap. Finally we headed across town and to the killing caves - here the khamer rouge decided instead of beating people to death they would push them down a cliff face into a cave below instead. Once more there was a small stupor filled with bones and skulls of the victims, it's sad that we're already becoming used to this site in Cambodia.
Next to the caves is a small pagoda on top of a hill where a ton of monkeys hang out. We, naturally, found a ton of random routes to explore and found a little ladder leading up through some rock to lead you to the top and edge of the cliff. It was around 5pm by this time so the sun was low in the sky as we had a Panaramic view of Battambang's countryside.
To end the day we took the steps down the mountain and went to the bat cave. During the day the inside of the cave looks black from all the bats, but it gets great at dusk, when over 5 million bats leave the cave to feed. They fly in formation and look like smoke or a snake billowing across the sky. It's an image quite hard to capture, but was stunning to see.
So after an action packed 2 nights in Battambang we're back on the road. Currently sitting on a 4 hour trip to Siem Reap. Today we've decided to avoid the bus' horn and chose seats near the back, however instead of music so far this trip we've been treated to a Cambodian martial art film, and now Khmer karayoke videos... But still, it's $4.50.