Beginning our journey in Cambodia, we took a bus down to Battambang, Cambodia’s second-largest city. This sleepy burg is connected to the Tonle Sap Lake by the Sangkor River. The bus ride was long, stuffy and bumpy but I was determined to travel like the local so the small amount paid was justifiable. We received stares of adoration and shy smiles. I believe many Indians didn’t travel greater than the Angkor Walls of Siem Reap
Battambang retains a unique small town charm and is perfect for travellers who seek a quieter and unique travel experience away from the hustle bustle of the touristic Siem Reap and noisy Phon Penh, It ownership goes back and forth between Thailand, French and Cambodia and thus influence of these countries were seen on its French colonial buildings, 1960s Khmer architecture and a fusion of Cambodian & Thai cuisine.
1.Get on the Bamboo Train
This is one experience that you must not miss while being in Battambang. Despite rumors that it would be closed down in the beginning of 2010, this one-of-a-kind adventure is still gaining popularity among travelers who explore this province. Basically, it is a train set on a bamboo platform atop four wheels. It zooms down the railway track and is controlled by a small motor. Historically used by the locals to transport goods, it is now popular among tourists. Still it doesn’t hurt enjoying an exhilarating ride along the tracks at 15km/h that feels much faster while you’re on it.
There is only one train track and when another train is coming from the opposite direction, a lighting speed act of dissembling the train takes places. At the end of the line, there are a few shops selling handy-crafts and cold drinks. The best time for the ride is just before sunset as on your way back you can request for your train driver to stop along the track to capture sun set shots by the many paddy fields. The entire ride takes no more than 3 hours and priced at USD5 per person and tipping a small amount of even a dollar makes a huge difference to the drivers.
2. Explore the countryside by Bike or Tuk Tuk
As many parts of Battambang is still untouched, it is dotted generously with lush greeneries, villages and rivers. Hire a Tuk Tuk or motorcycle for a day and go around the countryside. We were fortunate enough to have had a kind Tuk Tuk driver who offered to take us to his own village and explore the innermost rural sides of Battambang.
It was such a lovely ( though a bit bumpy) ride as we passed through the house of the villages, stop by any places we wish to take photographs and finally relaxed in a small hut in a paddy filed to staple the paddy field snake. Though I’m not a person who likes to try exotic food, I had a bite of the crunchy snake just for the heck of trying it.
3. Take a Cambodian Dish Cooking Class.
Leaving the paddy field that night, our Tuk Tuk driver suggested Nary’s Kitchen for dinner. As I found out upon arriving there that they gave cooking class for the dining guests, I joined in Mrs. Nary, a lovely Cambodian Woman to cook a few Cambodian dishes mainly the Fish Amok, Lap Lap.
The dishes were all prepared fresh and in a span for less than an hour, I managed to whip a full 4 course meal for the four of us. It was wholly satisfying and Nary’s Kitchen hosted us extremely well given the fact that we traveled in the low season. Those of you who is keen on taking the cooking classes can visit their website to prebook your classes or simply ask your tuk tuk driver to bring you to there.
4. Temple Run at a few of the lesser known temples and ruins around Cambodia.
Passing through charming villages and flat farmland off from the dirt road you will discover Wat Ek Phnom, an impressive but extremely dilapidated 11th century temple situated next to a large pond and is behind a contemporary 28m high Buddha statue. I learnt from our Tuk Tuk driver that the giant Buddha statue will not be finished as it was said that the building of it will marr the timeless beauty of the surrounding area and hence will just be left that way,
The collapsed wall of the temple adds to the atmospheric feel and visitors have to climb over fallen masonry and huge blocks of stone in order to traverse the grounds. Because of this, and its tranquil setting, Wat Ek Phnom is a must for anyone visiting the Battambang area as it actually gives you the impression that you are discovering a forgotten temple . As this is one of the very popular picnic spots for the locals, being here on a weekday would give you a wee bit more privacy.
Another temple worth exploring is the Phnom Banan, an Angkor era temple located on the top of a hill near the Sangker river. This Angkorian-era temple ruin consists of five towers, arranged in the five-pointed form reminiscent of Angkor Wat. Though it is a tiny temple, the location and serenity makes up for the small size – chances are you are going to have the whole place to yourself (beside the drink sellers) and local Cambodian children wanting to be your faithful guides along the 600 steps leading towards the temple. Danger signs around the temple remind you that the ruins are crumbling and judging by the leaning angle of some of the towers, they look like they could collapse at anytime.