Battambang is situated south of the Tonel Sap river, in north western Cambodia. It is well known for its rice produce and being a main hub in the road network between Phnom Penh and Thailand.
The picturesque Sangkae River runs through the city and it is home to some of the country’s best French colonial architecture. Attractions include myriad caves, the bamboo train, and if you’re there on the right day (sometimes changes) there is a circus in town.
The first morning we woke from Asia Guest House we were a little disheveled after a pretty poor nights sleep – it was hot night and the room had no aircon, just a very noisy ceiling fan – but, at US $8 per night, we got what we paid for… no sleep.
We were up fairly early and went to Choco L’art for a very lovely western style breakfast. We stayed in the cafe for a leisurely couple of hours – chilling, drinking coffee, writing our blog and making friends with the local cats. As the place is famous for its cakes, we had to try one before we left – Eddie ordered a chocolate hazelnut cake and I ordered a tasting plate so we could also try their chocolate mouse and vanilla cream, delicious!
After our long breakfast we hopped on our bikes and headed a few kilometres out of town to the Bamboo Train. We’ve heard that this may be closed soon as the railway network gets upgraded, but it would be a shame as it’s a unique (if not a little frightening) attraction, certainly memorable!
We parked our bikes (free parking) under shade cloth next to the rail line and hopped onto the flat bamboo carriage which cost US $5 each. The carriage had a mat and cushions on it, so we got comfortable and then our driver started the engine and took us on a fifteen minute trip up the line. We reached over 40km p/h and there was nothing to strap us in, so it’s scary in parts. We passed over a couple of rickety bridges and got the occasional whip of a branch as we sped past bushes, there were a few jolts and bumps in the rail but it was quite thrilling, once we knew we’d survived it!
When we reached the end of the line, the driver lifted the flat bamboo carriage off the track (with engine – which we realised wasn’t attached, simply placed on top) and picked up the lose wheels off the track in order for the carriages following us to stop.
We stayed at the end of the line for around ten minutes while other carriages arrived, and chatted with the local children who were trying to sell us bracelets.
On the return leg we came face to face with several carriages coming towards us, each time our driver slowed down and it was a coin-flip as to which carriage got taken off the rails while the other passed. The drivers are super fast at this, each stop only taking a minute or two to take a carriage off the rail and lift it to its new position. This made the return leg a much more leisurely pace, thankfully. When we returned we tipped our driver US $2 and he seemed pretty happy.
After disembarking from the bamboo train we jumped back on our bikes and headed another few kilometres down the road to a cave network. We parked our bikes up (US $1 each) and paid for a ticket to the caves (US $2 each) and then it was a short but steep walk up towards the first and most disturbing cave, the killing cave. We walked in and around this cave and to be honest I got very creeped out by it. This was a place where the Cambodian people were bludgeoned to death, their bodies tossed into the cave skylights, during the Khmer Rouge reign in the mid/late 1970’s. As we walked there were sculptures of the terrifying deaths these people faced, and inside were skeletons and skulls lying there, untouched.
We then had a steep walk up to a higher cave called the wind cave where we could see a magnificent view over the flat land. There were monkeys all around and so we stood fascinated by these creatures for a while. There were locals selling refreshments and so we stopped for an ice lolly as we admired the view. Eddie also tried a local delicacy- sugared cricket! …I chickened out!
We then walked down some steps to the bottom of the hill, back to where we parked our bikes. At the bottom there are several cafe huts so we sat and ordered a couple of beers and waited for 20 minutes until around 6.00 p.m. to see bats flying out of their ‘bat cave‘ – as they flew out it was like a thick smoke plume entered the sky as they flew in rhythmic waves, quite amazing.
We then rode back to Battenbang in time for dinner and enjoyed a fantastic meal at Coconut Lyly restaurant – we both tried new local dishes; I had Fish Amok and Eddie had Beef Lak Lak and they were both delicious and are now our new favourites.