Monday, I left Kampong Chhnang around 9am, stopping for a breakfast of bai cha such chrouk nung gaffee dteuk doc'o k'dau (fried rice with pork & hot coffee with sweet milk) and finally arrived in Battambang around noon. The distance from Kep to Battambang is only 461km but it had taken me 8 hours of intense driving, and even with a nights sleep in the middle my eyes felt like they were out on stalks! The roads here really are bad - the National Routes are only just what we would class 'B' road standard. Road improvements are supposed to be on the 'list of things to do immediately' by the current Government . . . and apparently has been since 2000!
I checked into my usual hotel here - the Khemara Battambang - an excellent little hotel with spotlessly clean rooms and (most) mod cons for $15 (£7.50) a night - before going to spend the evening with Sak, Theara, and their children, Chamnap, Chakrya, Borromey & Holly. I had bought Holly a Ballerina Barbie from Phnom Penh for $10 (£5) which she immediately took to show all her friends. She still hasn't taken it out of the plastic box as she doesn't want to 'make it old'!
Tuesday, I had breakfast at the Cold Night Restaurant next door to my hotel, practicing my Khmer again, this time po moan nung num-pan nung tai dteuk doc'o k'dau (eggs with toast and hot tea with milk) before driving out to Phnom Sampeou on Road 57 (ie. a dirt track). Phnom Sampeou is a mountain steeped in legend, with Wat Sampeou at the summit and caves used during the war as 'killing caves' by the Khmer Rouge, which still contain the skeletal remains. The Khmer Rouge took hundreds of people up the mountain, blindfolded with their hands tied behind their backs, and then threw them down into the caves. Back in Battambang I visited a couple of pagodas - Wat Kampheng and Wat Tahm Rai Saw - and the railway station which these days only sees a cargo train every couple of days and then had lunch at Sunrise Coffeehouse, where they ask all foreigners to sign the wall with name, date, and country. In the afternoon I spent a couple of hours sitting on my little balcony, which overlooks Wat Pachhaa and the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation (no Nick, Angelina is not here!) catching some rays, before spending the evening having dinner with Sak's family at home.
At 8.30am this morning, Wednesday, I took Theara to the Phsar Nath market and after having lunch Theara and the children took me into town so I could get my hair cut. Now, normally a little paranoid about having my hair cut in a strange salon, I had to put all concerns out of my mind as we entered what looked like someone's house and a tiny Khmer man came towards me with a pair of rather old looking scissors, but he did a great job and the haircut cost me the grand total of $2 (£1)! Afterwards we headed to the White Rose Restaurant for ice cream sundaes. While we were sitting in the restaurant the only other Westerner there got up to leave - he was a bit of an odd ball, hippy-like, high on something (and definitely not just life), with flowing long hair & beard, and when he caught sight of me he started calling out hello and waving like a mad man. Theara and her children were all looking at me wondering whether I knew him and I laughed and just said Bong ch'court (crazy man). They all started laughing! My Khmer is obviously improving