Arriving in Battambang was quite a shock. Before our boat could be tethered to the jetty, we were bombarded by a dozen tuk tuk drives who had scrambled aboard. Clearly they were desperate for business, shoving each other to be the first to get to us and getting right in our faces. It was overwhelming exactly the kind of situation I hate, but it was clear that we were not getting off the boat without agreeing to be taken to our hostel with one of them. Having agreed a price with one man, he then forced a path clear for them.
On the way to our hostel, we found out why the drivers were competing so fiercely for our custom – its for the chance to pitch us their tours of Battambangs surrounding attractions. For them, that’s where the real money is to be made (and it clearly is worth a lot to them, despite the price being as low as £10 for both of us, for the day). We weren’t sure how we wanted to spend our time in Battambang yet and I hate it when I feel I’m being pressured into making a decision. At that point I usually just walk away, but he seemed genuine, and clearly he badly wanted it, so we agreed to a half day tour the next day.
Our hostel in Battambang would’ve been the cheapest place we stayed (if it wasn’t for the bar tab). Not going to lie, I think we were sold on the place more due to its name, ‘Here be Dragons’, than because of it’s high online ratings. It’s fairly basic, lacking in aircon and hot water but with such a great atmosphere, and at a price lower than a cup of coffee in the UK, we really enjoyed ourselves. It was one of the most sociable places we stayed, with great food, friendly staff and a really chilled vibe.Hammocks and cocktails are sure fire winners with me and Matt.
That evening we wondered around town. There isn’t much to see in Battambang itself. Its Cambodia’s second largest city, so we were surprised by how small and run down it appeared. It looks like perhaps the place has seen better days and there clearly isn’t much wealth there as, unlike Phnom Pehn, there wasn’t a single international branded store in sight. Still despite its crumblingdown-ness, it was a nice period of calm during our time in Cambodia. The bombardment as we disembarked our boat aside, it was the place we were hassled by hawkers the least – perhaps because it doesn’t cater to many tourists.
The first stop on our afternoon tour was the bamboo train. When the tracks became disused enterprising Cambodians built their own motor powered vehicles which would run on the tracks. Now days only a few run for tourists. For years they have been saying that soon this attraction will soon be ended by a much needed rebuilding of Cambodia’s railways. Who knows when this will happen though. We loved our ride, it was great fun. The bamboo trains can reach speeds of up to 30mph.
We then visited the Killing Caves, where many victims of the Khmer Rouge regime were murdered. To get to the caves you can walk the long uphill path, or you can pay to ride up on the back of a moped. We opted for the later and it was terrifying (the path is not in good shape, and it was my first time on a moped). The views up the top are wonderful though.
We then waited until dusk to watch thousands of bats fly out from the mouth of a cave for their night time feeding. The outpouring of bats was just never ending, like a magic trick where the handkerchiefs just keep coming out the hat. The only downside was when it appeared to begin spitting with rain, until we realised there were no clouds in the sky above us, only bats…
Although I still tend to think that the most popular destinations are popular for a reason, it’s nice to get off the main tourist trail for a bit, where you can be less sure of what to expect.