We had 6 days to kill before starting our yoga and meditation retreat and after spending two days in Siem Reap catching up with The Danes and the Americans we had previously met, surrounded by lots of food and drink we decided to head to the sleepy province of Battambang for a couple of days of sightseeing.
Since our time in the Battambang was short and we didn’t know too much about the city before our arrival and after being picked up at the bus station by Seth (the tuk tuk driver from our hotel), we decided that we would spend the whole first day with Seth travelling by Tuk Tuk around Battambang seeing the infamous Bamboo Train, visiting a winery, killing caves and another cave where at sunset 15 million bats leave to fly around the city!
Our first stop on the tour was the Bamboo train. The train was literally a sheet of bamboo on metal wheels, with a driver that took you, pretty quickly, along the tracks to a nearby village and then back again. The price for this train ride was expensive at $5 per person, and ultimately we arrived to be greeted by lots of kids asking us to visit the rice factories or brick factories and adults trying to get us to buy scarves, t-shirts, drinks etc, so first impressions were not so good. Before I could say no I was getting
covered in ‘jewellery’ made from grass and Steve was getting dragged by the kids towards the factories. You do feel like you in the middle of a complete tourist scam but after 10 or 15 minutes your back on the train back to where you started, the whole thing only lasts an hour or so.
Adorned with my jewellery and the new bruises we had acquired from all the bumps on the journey we rejoined Seth ready for our second adventure. Seth took us to the only winery in Cambodia, where we walked through the vineyards and for the bargain price of $2 we got to sample the red wine, brandy, grape juice and ginger and honey juice. The juices were delicious and not wanting to seem rude we both drank the red wine, but unfortunately we couldn’t quite stomach the Brandy. Luckily Seth offered to down both our drinks for us (before DRIVING us to the next location!) Although the wine wasn’t great it was a nice experience and it seems that the small family business is doing very well as there were photos all over the wall of the owner with the King and Prime Minister etc.
Getting back aboard our Tuk Tuk (hoping that the brandy hadn’t gone to Seth’s head too much) we began our ‘bumpy’ ride towards the caves. We drove through some small villages and got to see some beautiful sights. Upon seeing the hoards of chinese tourists alongside the stretch of day trip coaches we knew we were close to our final destination. Seth pulled over and pointed up to the ‘bat cave’ which would be the main focus of these hundreds of tourists in a couple of hours time.
For now we would be making the journey up an incredibly high hill to see the killing caves and then spend…
some time in the village. After passing through lots of children and even monks who wanted to get money from us for one reason or another we finally reached the cave. The cave itself was not very impressive. Seth had previously informed us that the reason it was called the killing caves was because tens of thousands of people had been pushed into the cave dead or alive during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. At one end of the cave was a very disturbing sight…..human skulls and bones stacked up in what resembled a grab machine at an amusement park. Even more disturbing though is the reason these remains were placed in these ‘glass cabinets’ was because deranged tourists were stealing the ‘memorabilia’.
As the sun was slowly going down we began our descent back towards Seth, we had a quick look around the village before finding front row seats to watch the bats flying out of their home. In true Cambodian style the bats were half an hour late and at 6.30pm we saw the first movements of the bats within the cave.
We got our cameras set up to video mode(see video here) and patiently waited for their arrival. The number of bats in that cave was the same number of people living in Cambodia and along with the hundreds of other spectators we were eager to see them…..but nothing quite prepared us for the sight of the millions of bats that were soon flying above us. After taking a few photos Seth came over to us and told us the best viewing point was round the corner, confused but very trusting of our new friend we jumped back in the Tuk Tuk and soon arrived next to a field where we gained some amazing video footage and took some great photos! Seth had told us that the bats leave their cave and head to the swamps and houses in the city to eat all the bugs and then around 5am they head back to their cave before sunrise.
Tired after an exhausting day of sightseeing, Seth took us back to the hotel and we witnessed a beautiful sunset on route. We went to the Gecko Cafe round the corner for a true Cambodia feast, Burgers, chips and Onion rings and passed out in the hotel room!