I’m the guy that is always 10 minutes early for everything. I’m not the guy that misses a bus or a plane. I’m never late for a meeting and I try to know my plan, know the duration of a trip, and know when to get off a bus. This went pear-shaped enroute to Battambang, however.
I’d been wandering around Sihanoukville for most of the afternoon after arriving back on the mainland from Ko Rong Samloem, waiting for my bus to Battambang which was meant to depart at 6pm, then 7pm and eventually at 8pm thanks to a monster cloud burst and storm like no other. By the time I got on the bus, I was knackered. The Cambodian sleeper busses are pretty comfortable though- if the bus is relatively empty, you virtually have a 3/4 bed (completely flat) to yourself. If the bus is full however, you have to share this space with a stranger which would be completely less than ideal. Unless she’s blonde and a Swedish underwear model but let’s be real- it’s a local Cambodian bus- it’s going to be a toothless geriatric. Thankfully, the bus was empty.
My trip to Battambang started with a detour via Phnom Penh, which is in the opposite direction, in order to catch a bus that took me to my final destination. Being unsure of how long the trip would be, I couldn’t really get any rest as I was shit scared I’d miss the connection. Fortunately, this leg of the trip went according to plan. Finding the connecting bus was also pretty easy and was also a sleeper bus. I hit that bed hard and was unconscious for a good few hours.
The bus, being a local bus, doesn’t announce which stop you’ve arrived at- the bus just stops for a few minutes and that’s it. I slept through my stop like a muppet and woke up leisurely, looked at my gps app and had a heart attack. There was Battambang way behind me.
I scrambled- got my stuff together and got the hell off that bus at the next stop having no clear idea where I was or how I’d get to where I needed to be.
The story has a happy ending though- whilst I was looking at a map on the corner of the road, with my backpack and day pack on, looking like a tortoise, a local guy walked up to me, and in broken English, asked if he could help. We had a chat for a few minutes and then he called his friend who gave me a lift on his scooter back to the town I needed to be in. How awesome is that? Would we ever do something similar? I can safely say I wouldn’t do that back home but here, in the rural countryside of Cambodia, a total stranger helped me out in a big way and didn’t even want to accept a cent in compensation. Humanity still has a chance!
Naturally, I started my journey in this town on a high note as a result of this. I spent the next few days doing some pretty interesting things. If you find yourself in Cambodia, try and pop past Battambang… I know it’s a little off the beaten track but I promise you it’s worth it. In fact, when you head to Siem Riep, make Battambang a pit stop.
The best way to get around the town is negotiate with a Tuk Tuk driver to take you around for the day. You can rent a motorbike but my rule is to not risk it in towns and cities- only islands and national parks. If you decide to rent a scooter, you will have the added mission of navigating – Battambang is a bit of a maze, especially in the countryside.
There are a host of different temples dating back to Angkorian times as well as a number of memorials relating to the Khmer Rouge genocide (Battambang was hit particularly hard – cannibalism was endorsed here by the leaders of the Khmer Rouge).
If you’re interested in visiting, you can read a guidebook just as well as I can, but there are 3 things that aren’t well highlighted which you HAVE to see:
The Bat Cave
I feel like Bat Man just writing those 2 words :-). There is a cave just outside the town which houses millions of bats that leave the cave everyday at dusk to go and hunt for insects in the nearby farmlands. Watching them fly out of the cave is an incredible thing… The sound of the bats within the cave gets progressively louder as it gets darker outside and then all of a sudden they start exiting the cave in droves. They form this black line hundreds of meters long across the horizon. The formations they make are incredible- it’s almost like watching a shoal of fish moving magically in sync with each other.
The Bat Cave is located very close to the Killing Cave- another execution site for the Khmer Rouge. This time, they would throw their victims through a skylight in a cave to their deaths. You can’t even make this sort of brutality up! There are 2 memorials to this, make sure you go to the correct one.
This was such a highlight for me and it doesn’t get the attention it deserves online and in the Lonely Planet. In a nutshell, the circus is made up of a number of young adults who perform with the intention of generating some revenue that goes towards improving the quality of their lives. Don’t for a second think this is some half-arsed performance- it is genuinely excellent. The stuff these guys pull off with a ladder and some broken pieces of tubing will amaze you! It’s a feel good night out for only $14. Back home this would cost twice as much. Furthermore, no animals are used in the performance, which is excellent. Animal circuses are a thing of the past and should be rightfully shunned. Elephants aren’t meant to sit on their hind legs and dance for humans. What bullshit is that?
I’ll concede this one is a little touristy but a lot of fun nonetheless. A few decades ago, this train cart was the main connection between Battambang and a village 7 kms away. Nowadays, it transports tourists to the village. The ride itself is a lot of fun and the train cart is archaic which makes it a bit exciting. Upon arrival at the small village at the end of the tracks, you’ll be accosted with people selling you a variety of souvenirs. Personally, I was happy to support them as it felt a little more authentic than being harassed in a city street.
I’m now on board a long boat to Siem Riep. The journey takes 7 hours and we are passing by a lot of small, quaint riverside villages. I’m 45 minutes in and already have ants in my pants!