Arrived in Battembang on Saturday having travelled up from Siem Reap by boat. The boat itself was quite an experience passing floating villages along the way. The journey took about 6 hours but can take as long as 9 hours as the season gets drier. Life along the Tonle Sap is very simple and the community seem to survive purely on fishing. Even the scholl and tiny shops are built over the water.
When we arrived we met up with Tony, the driver recommended by Anna who we had met back in Vietnam. Having lived in Cambodia for 2 years anna had been able to give us plenty of suggestions and advice on what to see and do during our time here. We arranged a full day out with Tony for the next day, Sunday and it really was a great day.
We started a ride on the bamboo railway which is a really basic bamboo platform with a small motor that uses the remaining train track in the area. I think the main cargo is tourists now but we only saw two other people on their own little train. There is only one track so if you meet another train the lightest load has to move everything past for the heavier load to go past. If it is a tie they do scissor, paper, stoned to decide who will give way and help the others!
After that we visited a really old traditionally built house from 190, with some of it much older. It was made all of wood so I don't know how they kept the termites away. The house had been lived in by the same family except for the years when the Khmer Rouge took it over as an officer residence.
From there is was seeing people harvest crops for the market, a taste at possible the only vineyard in Cambodia and to see some huge fruit bats sleeping in a tree. A chance to see another Wat and to climb a few hundred steps to get to the top. Over a well earned cold drink at the bottom Tony told us the story of his childhood. In 1975 he was taken away from his parents by the KR at the age of only 3 and lived in fear for his life. His sister was killed for stealing a banana because she was so hungry and he saw many people killed in front of him. It was so humbling to hear what he went through and he is overall a very positive man despite everything. Luckily his parents survived and he was reunited with them, but they all sounded extremely lucky to be alive.
The afternoon was spent visiting Sampeo Wat which had stunning views, beautiful buddha's and temples and also caves were over 1000 people were killed by the Khmer Rouge. The cave is now a peaceful haven that a buddhist nun lives in and has shrine to the victims.
The highlight of the day was to climb a little way up the other side of the mountain at dusk to watch some of the 18 millio0n inhabitany bats flying out. We were the only people there and were able to crouch and see th bats slowly rising from the bottomm of the cave and becoming braver as the sun went down. Once they started coming out it was like one long black line as they hugged the side of the mountain. You could then see groups of them flying against the sunset like whisps of smoke. A fantastic opportunity with or without the very strong smell! The unsealed village roads back to Battembang left us coated on red road dust but we saw children collecting frogs by torch light and lamps up for catching crickets. No douby headed for the market the next day.
The next day we just went out and about for a couple of hours with Tony to see rice paper making for spring rolls, sticky rice cooked in bamboo and rice noodle making. Each village seemed to make just one thing or grow one particular crop.Another really good day and made me want to come back to see more of the Battembang region.