Photo is of the library at Banteay Chhmar, the temple we visited last Sunday. Temple of the Cats.
I have just returned from two very pleasant and interesting days in Battambang with Sue Everett, an Australian from Melbourne. We went there by bus, a surprisingly easy journey, despite the dreadful state of the roads and the many people overladen vehicles, as they were returning to their own homes after the PB holiday. Some vehicles for about 12 people carried in excess of 30, plus all their luggage, bikes, and in some cases motos. Fortunately we didn't see any accidents, and I didn't have to use my braking foot too many times, although I did my fair share of mumbling under my breath when I thought he was trying to overtake unnecessarily. We finally arrived after 4 hrs and were met by many manic tuk drivers trying to get our attention and custom, so that we would stay at the hotel they were attached to. I searched them for Mr Olas, the driver I have used on my previous two visits there, but he was nowhere to be seen. As we had pre booked The Royal it was just a matter of choosing someone for the short, dusty ride to save our legs in the heat and then see if we could contact him for the following day. The hotel was exactly the same and when I explained that I had stayed there previously I received excellent treatment. They contacted Mr Olas for me and he duly arrived keen to do all we asked the following day. The biggest disappointment we had was when we heard that all entertainment had been cancelled for the period of mourning, so we were unable to go and see the P S human circus, a highlight of any visit. It is a French NGO that takes teenagers and those in their early 20's who are involved with drug abuse, prostitution etc and educates them in circus and music skills, their performances are amazing.
Our afternoon stroll around Battambang proved to be very interesting, as every few steps elaborate shrines to the late king were set up and many people were praying for him, Cambodians are all feeling very sad about his death and want to show their respect. A while late we met a very orderly line of between 500 and 1000 High school students processing thought the streets carrying a large photograph of him, and wearing black ribbons on their white school shirts, we watched as they journeyed to a pagoda across the river, and later we heard the monks chanting a blessing with them.
Friday was spent with Mr Olas on the tourist circuit, despite it being my third visit it most enjoyable, and of course new things were seen and enjoyed. The climb up the 345 steps to the top of Banan Temple seemed easier than last year, despite the wheezing lungs and cough. The last experience of the day was the most amazing, in excess of 1 million bats leaving a cave for their evening flight and feed, it took 30 minutes for them all to leave, however, the smell was so awful I struggled to watch, and then we jumped into the. Tuk for another 2km to witness a never ending ribbon of black, as they proceeded across the sky. Apparently they are out until about 4am and then the procedure occurs as they return until 5:30pm the following day. Other than the smell it was a phenomenal feat of nature to witness.
Our return meant getting up at 5:50am to enable us to grab some breakfast before the 7hr boat ride back to Siem Reap. As the river level is down so much on my previous visits the were able to board the boat in Battambang with a mixture of locals, goods to be delivered and a few backpackers. It was a fascinating journey, as the river was a mass of one man boats fishing, this I had not witnessed before, and many stops being made for deliveries of people and strange loads. Our boat was met by a dugout canoes each time goods/people needed to be on/off. The journey along the river was quite fast, but once we hit the lake it was extremely turbulent and I wondered if the boat would survive the battering and bouncing over the waves. No life jackets, but we had had to write our name and nationality before clambering aboard, I needed help- felt like an old lady being led down the steep, bobbing steps without a handrail. Home in a tuk, but the driver didn't bargain for people who knew what they were doing, so he didn't do to well financially, as we got out we met friends, starting talking so he couldn't berate us barangs for not giving him a tip.
When we went out last night to a quiz I was amazed to see the enormous, flower decorated photo of the king in front of the royal residence and how magnificently it had been illuminated - guess what - no power cuts since it has been erected! The roads past the residence are closed off to allow locals to process past it to the shrine.
As we missed our long cycle ride Meychyi and I decided to do one today, it is was difficult to decide where to go, but as she hadn't seen West Baray we thought it would be a new adventure, in the end that was an understatement. To the Baray was straight forward, 15km over reasonable surfaces, once there we decided to cycle round it, approx 20km, but we had no idea of conditions. The first part not bad, some going through mud, other reasonably firm ground, but bumpy. It was fascinating watching the Khmers arriving to spend the day in the huts along the way, swinging in their hammocks enjoying picnics. Once we were about half way the going changed and it became deep sand which I found very difficult without gears, and frequently had to get off and walk. All was well as we could still see the water, but it was becoming quite remote with just the occasional boy with his cow/s. we could see Angkor Wat and all was well other than a temp of about 36, no cloud cover and little shade. Going was getting rougher and tougher until there was no path at all and to coincide with that my front tyre was flat, no pump between us! We found a narrow channel where water had rushed, it was very steep, deeply gorged with about a 20m drop and impossible for us to get our bikes down. After a bit of searching we found a less steep hillside into a yard of two palm huts, we braved it and a friendly lady appeared and seeing my tyre pointed across the track to a man who could mend it. He immediately took the tube out, found the puncture, mended it and charged me 2000 riiels, 30p and he was able to point us in the direction of Angkor Wat, we had no idea where we were or how to get back, so it was with great relief we set off again. 5 hrs later we cycled back into town and may well have done 50 km, exhausted, dehydrated and drenched with sweat, so it was straight to Angkor Famous for a beer and bottles of cold water. We had drunk 2l en route, so had been prepared. Lunch was needed and enjoyed, Mey to come home and me to shop to buy coffee and some supplies. Once on Sivathra, I met a procession of in excess of 1000 people carrying a large picture of the late king, first were the monks, in order of seniority, followed by nuns and widows, then ladies, high school students and then young children. The monks were chanting constantly and each one was carrying a lotus flower. Eventually I reached the shop, bought and began riding home, only to encounter the procession again on their way back to the residence, again I had to stop and watch, as I couldn't cross the road. All music and entertainment has been stopped for the period of mourning, and apparently everyone is happy to follow.
Although I am now clean, it is very hot, so I'm sweating, need to eat and then plan work for next week before an early night.
Take care all and enjoy, J. Good luck for you, sweet dreams for me. X