With the development of tourism in Cambodia, the government has put a lot of investment in connecting Siem Reap with other parts of the country and neighboring Thailand, not to mention that highway projects are among the most ripe for pocketing some extra cash. In fact, it probably took some extra rangling for them to finally make good roads into Siem Reap, as so many people many a corrupt living off of those wanting to get to Siem Reap by land. As we would find after leaving Cambodia into thailand, these thieves have nowhere else to go and set up shop on the thai side of the border, and there do quite a bit of business ripping travellers off, but more on that in the last post. Anyway, we had the option of taking a quick and easy 3 hour bus ride from Siem Reap to Battambang, but instead of taking the easy way to the arguably fourth biggest tourist destination in cambodia, we decided to instead go by boat, which on both sides of the huge Tonle Sap lake, is a tourist destination in and of itself. Because of the number of tourists, it is far less expensive in the other direction, but the 7.5 hour boat trip was well worth it. Estimated as short as 6 hours, it could possibly take as long as 9, or even 12 during the dry season, as the boats have the possibility of getting stuck in spots where the water level is not high enough, which is quite easy to understand. This is because the boat doesnt really follow a river into the lake and then into another river, but instead follows the areas that happen to be the most flooded at that point in time. Directly around the lake, certain 'roads' have been carved into the swampy marshland, making a space just barely wider than the boat itself without bushes, mangrove trees and muck. There was one point where there was no clear 'road' and the boat sort of just launched itself into the floating flora, got stuck, had to back up, and then heave the engine to full throttle again, repeating about 5 or 6 times. The boat was divided in two, with benches and plastic covers in one, and the roof on the other, and during the second half of the trip we stayed up top, which was quite an adventure when we had to go through a particularly narrow set of 'roads' where the trees reached over and into the lanes, and you had to get down quickly and often in order to avoid getting scratched and smacked in the face by branches. The local wildlife is something you couldn't avoid, as all these branches that got thrashed by the boat deposited all sorts of grasshoppers, ants, spiders, mosquitos and other bugs upon us and everyone else on the roof of the boat. Many of these we would not have seen otherwise, but we were wary of feelings of something crawling on your arms, legs and back for a good while thereafter. Nevertheless, the main reason to take this long route was to see the various floating villages that are found along the way. Many of the people in cambodia live in suspended houses, that are set upon stilts, to deal with the rising water levels and floods of the monsoon season, but these were whole towns who are not built on top of anything, but really are houses that float upon the water, and are anchored down. They were mostly the same size, of a couple dozen houses, all full of waving children, and all having a local grocer, a local cell phone provider, and usually a local karaoke bar. It is really difficult to get your head around the fact that these people live on top of the water every day all year, in quite extreme conditions. We saw these too in halong bay in Vietnam, but there it was obvious they were there to live off of the endless number of tourist boats, in quite calm bay waters, but these people lived hours from the tourist centers of the country and had to deal with rising and sinking stagnant water of the marshlands. It is really a way of life that is difficult to imagine unless you see it, and can also be found throughout Thailand, Pakistan and India. Battambang itself was a pleasant, relaxing place, where tourism really hasn't taken off yet. Like the 'rest' of Cambodia, it has a much more laid back vibe than Siem Reap and the capital, and also had a markedly more enjoyable climate, being several degrees cooler than those places visited previously. Finally, as the rest of south east asia, had phenomenal food, but being a bit more of an alternative destination, had a slew of fusion restaurants, with proprietors seeking to make alternative food, which gave phenomenal results of cambodian ingredients and tastes sprinkled into californian-mexican food and french food. We had a pair of burritos that were better than pretty much any I have ever had on this side of the atlantic ocean, and the french restaurant, although expensive for the area, provided phenomenal food at a minimal fraction of even mediocre restaurants in france. Our hotel was quite simple and inexpensive, but more than enough than what you needed, but was plagued by annoying tuk-tuk drivers which hung out in the lobby downstairs, who along with the reception staff pestered us to go on a day tour of the area. Which in the end was a bit of a shame, because we went on the day tour the day after arriving, and it was such an enjoyable trip, it really sells itself, and the pushy drivers are more than likely to discourage you from going. The day trip, besides letting you see a good deal of the cambodian countrysides, stops at one of the neatest and most fun things we saw on our trip; the 'bamboo train'. I had images of a locomotive made out of bamboo, but the truth is much simpler, and adventurous. As the rail lines in cambodia are no longer in use, industrious peasants decided to use the lines as they could, and assembled a self propelling bamboo platform, that they could load with stuff and travel a few kilometers. Being turned into a tourist attraction, you are placed upon this square bamboo platform that sits upon two train axels, the rear of which is connected to a small engine, from a lawn mower perhaps, that then pushes the cart along the rails at about 30 km/h at its max speed. The ride is quite exilerating, and since there is only track, its quite fun to see what happens when two 'trains' arrive, as one of the two, arbitrarily, has to stop, unload whatever is on it, remove the platform and the wheels, and make way for the other one, and then just replace and reassemble on the other side. Simple and ingenious but lots of fun. At the end, we had a little bit of time at a small village, where we went and saw a brick factory, though not in operation that day, where we sat and talked to a woman and her family, while she made us a set of figurines with banana leaves. Our second stop was the main angkor era temple of the area, but which happened to be at the top of a hill, where you had to climb several hundred steep stairs, after which you were too tired and sweaty to appreciate the temple anymore. After lunch nearby, we ventured to a sacred buddhist hill, but which during the era of the Khmer Rouge had been used as a killing field. We again had a good deal of climbing to do and at the top found a buddhist temple complex, with two separate temples and a large stupa, finely decorated and in surprisingly good condition. The hill itself, because of its strategic importance, had also been a point of conflict between the Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge, and having been taken over by the Vietnamese, a pair of artillery guns, given by the Vietnamese to the Cambodian liberation army, who in turn recieved them from east germany, still sit atop the hill. One of them sits strategically under a fruit tree, and so a whole platoon of monkeys spent their time on and around the gun, except for a particularly bigger, daring monkey who went over and stole a bag of fruit from an old buddhist monk nearby. Finally, decending the hill at around sunset, we stopped in front of the hill, near a giant buddha head, to look at a big opening in the side of the mountain. As the sun started to set and the light started to fade, the hole seemed to come to life, and from one instant to the next, a river of bats started pouring out. We stayed and watched the spectacle for about a half hour, but were told they take nearly two hours to all leave their cave, but that before sunrise all 300 million of them have to return home. Back to Battambang itself, the small city is considered the best example of colonial architecture in cambodia, and although there werent many particularly big, ornate buildings, it was quite free of the normal, cement monstrosities that dominate most of the real estate in comparable small cities in Vietnam. Unfortunately the old French Governor's mansion is not illuminated at night, but the set of buildings along the riverfront are quite striking, in a not particularly exceptional way. Battambang provided a nice 'end' to our trip, being more cool, relaxed, and quiet than anywhere else we had been, except for Luang Prabang, and was if nothing else a nice respite before the tumultours road trip that would constitute the very end of our trip, the road to Bangkok.