Battambang is the second largest city in Cambodia after Phnom Penh, but only recently has it become known to tourists. Why? Because of a creeky, quirky and for some reason down right loveable 'bamboo train'. The single track line was originally used to transport people and produce between the tiny village of O Sra Lau and O Dambong (a stones throw away from Battambang). However, with the arrival of a new roads this track and many others like it became redundant for years. Much to the locals amusement tourists now come from far and wide to ride the old thing. On paper we certainly questioned its appeal, but when in Battambang! We boarded a bamboo flatbed, also known as a 'Norry' and sat cross legged ready for what we thought would be a leisurely ride through the countryside. Our driver lit up a fag and started up the engine almost simultaneously before we began roaring into greenery. My those things can move! We spent the first part of the journey clutching one another and laughing our heads off at how unexpectedly speedy it was. About half way through the ride another Norry appeared in the distance and we began to slow. As we jolted to a stop the driver grumpily muttered "can you help", unknowingly we obliged. It turns out we had to disembark the train and move it off the tracks! We found the whole experience absolutely hilarious. The fact that our driver was dead serious for the entire journey and refused to condone our sense of humour made it all the more funny. If you ever find yourself in Battambang, be sure to treat yourself to the notorious bamboo train experience.
One of our days in Battambang was spent exploring the ancient hill tops of Khum Phnom Sampov. There are a series of caves and temples dotted around best explored by motorbike. It was also a rare path less discovered by tourists in comparison with most of our temple experiences; minimal hassle and no elephant trousers in sight. The area was also well inhabited by wildlife, some of which Dod wasn't so comfortable with. We were winding up one of the steeper hills when all of a sudden he slammed sharply on the brakes, "Oh my god oh my god oh my god" was all he could manage to explain. Without knowing what the hell was going on I gripped him around the waist and dug my nails in hard "PUT YOUR F****** FEET DOWN" I said through gritted teeth whilst scraping my toes along the ground to keep us from hurtling backwards down the hill. Thankfully he managed find the inner strength just in time. I looked over his shoulder to see what all the fuss was about and layed eyes on a bright green snake! We had been less than a meter away from running the thing over, which seemed just as startled itself. Dod suddenly snapped out of his immobility and frantically started trying to turn the bike around. "Not so fast" I said, "pics first!" Poor Dod had to wait a few seconds while I snapped away, but hey, now he can prove just how scary it was!
Movement of the People
During our day of exploring the temples and caves we regularly found ourselves driving through, or temporarily becoming a part of huge political motorbike rallies. It was very exciting, and felt empowering to see an almost equal variation of gender and age groups engaging with the goings on. From what we could gather there were two parties campaigning, the blues and the whites aka The Cambodian People's Party and the Cambodia National Rescue Party. After researching the upcoming election we discovered the not so empowering political status of the leading party. Have a read here -
It felt strange but eye opening to experience first hand how easy it is to misconceive what is ultimately still a repressed state living under a dictatorship.