Adventuring Like Indiana Jones in Battambang, Cambodia
At the beginning of October I decided to head to Battambang from Siem Reap by bus to visit some friends for a long weekend trip. That weekend in Battambang there was the water festival, a week before the rest of Cambodia as the city decides who should go compete in the Phnom Penh boat races. Once I arrived, I left my things at the Blue Diamond Hostel – a beautiful hostel, a little bit outside the centre but with the perfect value for money, there was even a pool!
Boat Races and the Phare Circus
After having left my things, I went on to explore. Since it was a particular weekend, the main street on the river was full of food stalls, people, games and the first boat races. The atmosphere was very relaxed and joyful, a day in which almost every family participated. Races lasted from the morning to the evening but the party went on to the night. This is how I spent my first afternoon in Battambang, eating, drinking and having fun with friends. In the evening, I went to get an aperitivo (I am Italian and this is what we call drinks before dinner) in a rooftop right by the river where we could still see the boat races and the conclusive fireworks.
In the evening I went to see the famous Phare Circus, a social enterprise which uses the income generated by shows, merchandise and refreshments to support the free education, professional arts training and social programs of vulnerable children. Let yourself be amazed by their talents.
The day after, on the Saturday, I went to the bamboo train. Honestly, I imagined I would find a train entirely made of bamboo. This is not the case, but it is super fun and a nice way to see the Battambang countryside. Just a few tips. 1) The train goes quite fast so try to keep your mouth shut to avoid eating all the insects of the Battambang countryside. 2) The train does not have a roof so put loads of sunscreen on. 3) When your train runs into another one on the same tracks, the one with the fewer passengers has to be disassembled and reassembled after the other one.
Phnom Sampov and the Bat Caves
In the afternoon I took a tuk tuk to Phnom Sampov (Sampov Mountain) where there are also bat caves. Once I arrived there, I hiked to the top of the mountain where there was a beautiful temple, a wonderful view of the valley and a cave. The cave is infamous for being used by the Khmer Rouge regime to kill their victims. For this reason it’s known as the Killing Cave. It was sad seeing such a beautiful place used in such a terrible manner. Thereafter, I continued hiking the mountain, where I reached a temple full of monkeys and enjoyed another beautiful view.
As it was almost sunset, I rushed to the bottom of the mountain to go see the bat caves. We went to the special spot my local friends suggested, and watched the bats flying out of the caves. Personally, one of the most amusing natural spectacles I have ever seen. The bats are so many that it lasts for at least half an hour. If you ever go to Battambang, I highly suggest it.
Kun Khmer Fights and the Boat Back to Siem Reap
Once dark, my friends and I decided to go see the Kun Khmer fights. In Cambodia it is one of the most followed sports. If you wish to go, check the time and the date prior to going. From the bat caves, it was quite a journey to get there. I’m not a martial arts expert and for me the interesting part was mainly being surrounded by cheering locals, eating khmer food and drinking beer. After half an hour, you have seen one, you have seen them all and I lost interest.
The day after was unfortunately my last day so I booked the boat back to Siem Reap at the hotel. The hostel had arranged for me to get to the boat with a tuk tuk and a car. Once I got to the boat, which again was nothing like I had expected, we left. I had been terrified by someone who told me stories of sinking boats and deadly crocodiles but don’t worry. The boat feels very safe.
The boat trip was simply spectacular (and a bit long). It is a good way of admiring the countryside and its nature, “visiting” the floating villages along the way, tanning a little bit and feeling like Indiana Jones standing on the boat’s roof trying to avoid the tree branches and the flying insects. A piece of advice: when I went it was October – rainy season – meaning that there was enough water for the boat to actually be there. I am not sure how much water there is in dry season.
Battambang was a delightful surprise, where I discovered more of Cambodia and being adventurous, making me feel a little bit like Indiana Jones.
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