Sak & I met at 7.30am Saturday morning and went for breakfast (noodle soup & excellent sweet coffee with condensed milk) at his local streetside café. I was the only woman (and definitely the only barang!) but Sak's friends accepted me with smiles and made an effort to talk with me. We spent about an hour here before setting out on the motorbikes for Samlot; the most war-torn place in Cambodia.
Samlot was the first place to be taken over by the Khmer Rouge in 1968 and the last place to give up Khmer Rouge control in 1998. Even as late as 2001 the area had more landmines than the rest of Cambodia put together. It was the most heavily mined District in the country and became the world capital for landmine victims. It was also in Samlot than Duch - the Head of Tuol Sleng (S-21) Prison & Torture Centre was found only a few years ago working for, unbelievably, a Christian NGO. The other Heads of the Khmer Rouge were until recently (now all in prison in Phnom Penh) living freely just in the next town of Pailin.
The village is also supported by the Maddox Jolie Pitt Foundation (MJP) established by Angelina Jolie on behalf of her Cambodian son.
The road (No 57) to Samlot/Pailin is awful, however after a while I got used to avoiding the craters (cows, children, hens, dogs . . . ) in the road and even after stopping for coffee at a town called Treng, we made it to Samlot in 2.5 hours. The distance is only 80km but 2.5 hours is considered quick! The countryside on the way to Samlot is very beautiful, but sadly the Government is burning a lot of the jungle area to make way for farming.
Once in Samlot we walked around the village, visiting the school and market, before having a bite to eat and then setting off to the MJP Conservation Area in Tasanh, which we thought was nearby but ended up being another 20km away! We finally made it, right to the gates of Angelina Jolie's house (no Nick, in case you are reading this, she wasn't there) and then spent the next 2 hours getting lost in the jungle, which considering the number of landmines known to have been found in the area made it rather a daunting task! We were advised by local security to take a certain road back as it was considered quicker than the way we had come, but you really could not call it a road, more jungle track than anything, and after about an hour I got a puncture. We managed to find someone in a tiny village who was able to replace the inner tube with an old one he had and this, fortunately, allowed us to make it back to Battambang before it got dark.
I have never been so dirty in my life! My clothes, hair & skin were covered in dust from the roads. I noticed on the way back that I wasn't stared at as much . . . I was so dark perhaps people thought I was Khmer! Despite the puncture I don't think I've ever had such a great day out on a motorbike. I'm seriously tempted to take up dirt bike riding! Arrived back in Battambang around 6pm completely exhausted. So tired in fact that I couldn't be bothered to eat! Ang & I had a couple of Angkor Beers in the reception area of the hotel, before I collapsed into bed around 9pm.
I decided to have a bit of a lie-in on Sunday morning before going for breakfast with Ang (he was heading off to Phnom Penh at 10am) and then going out with Sak on his bike to visit some local villages. Late afternoon we caught the Bamboo Train (locally known as the 'norry') to watch the sun set about 10km out of Battambang. The 'norry' is simply a flat shelf of bamboo sitting on top of two sets of train wheels with an engine at the back to power it. There is only one track and so if you meet another 'norry' coming the other way, the one with the least amount of cargo (and these things don't just take people - bikes, pigs, hens, wood, rice . . . you name it) has to be removed from the track to let the other one pass. We had to leave the track 4 times on the outbound journey, but as we were the last to return we had a clear run (see Video and Photos).
PS. Aw-GOON-tran (thank you very much) to everyone who has emailed me and left messages. Please keep them coming!