Wat Banan, Cambodian cheese & a ride on Battambang’s bamboo train

We arrived in Battambang and were accosted by the usual moto drivers offering us free rides to certain guesthouses/hotels. After not being very impressed with the Golden Parrot‘s small, dark rooms, we checked into a large $5 room with two big beds, attached bathroom, views across the market, T.V and fridge (although the fridge was located on the floor above!) at Chhaya Hotel. I was rather disappointed about not being able to catch the boat here from Siem Reap, and even more disappointed when we bumped into the British couple (the pair that have been travelling for 5 years) who informed us that they’d just arroved in Battambang – on the boat. Obviously I’d been misinformed when i’d booked my ticket the day before, although I’m not quite sure why as the boat ticket is $4 more expensive.

Kotoe and I walked down to Smoking Pot (nothing to do with marajuana; it’s actually a restaurant and Khmer/Thai Cooking School) for a drink and perused their tasty sounding menu in preparation for our meal in the evening. Unfortunately Battambang’s museum was closed (even though they’re supposed to stay open until 5pm, it is apparently, not unusual for them to close early if they have no customers in the building) so we spent the rest of the afternoon checking out the market and chatting to the British couple (whose names i keep forgetting to ask!) at The White Rose.

The food at Smoking Pot was divine and the couple who own the restaurant have two of the most helpful children i’ve had the pleasure of encountering : they take orders, open beers for you, light a mosquito coil under your table, bring your food, collect your plates, and produce an invoice for you at the end of your meal!

The following day, I walked down to the market in the morning and purchased a bunch of sweet yellow bananas, a large papaya, and a ripe mango, and in our hotel room we created another wonderful fruit salad, drizzled in sweet milk (which Kotoe has been carrying around with her since our last day in Siem Reap!)

I decided to take a tour of the area today (which included a ride on Battambang’s famous bamboo train) with one of Chhaya’s resident moto drivers (the same one in fact, who met us from the bus station the previous day). I managed to barter the price down from what would have been $16 plus $4 to ride the bamboo train, to just $10.

My moto driver spoke excellent English, drove safely, provided me with a helmet without my asking, and had a sense of humour, albeit a strange one at times! We drove through several villages outside of Battambang, firstly stopping to learn how sticky rice in bamboo is made and having the opportunity to taste some, which incidently is delicious : the rice is mixed with black beans and a little coconut milk. The remaining itinery for the day was as follows :

  1. Cambodian Cheese Factory. Actually nothing that remotely resembles cheese; it is in fact small fish with their bones removed, which are crushed to make a pulp and then mixed with various sauces.
  2. Production of spring roll wrappers. These are made with rice and water and then left to dry in the sun.
  3. Production of banana paper. You don’t write on it or use it to wipe your arse! It is actually very finely sliced bananas coated in honey, joined together and left to dry in the sun, then eaten. (1 banana paper = 100 RIEL)
  4. Ride the bamboo train. This was great fun. It’s simply a platform made out of bamboo, with a small motor at the back. According to my moto driver, it reaches speeds of 45km per hour.
  5. Wat Banan. On a hill (there are 358 steps to climb to reach it) 26km south of Battambang, with fantastic views over the city and surrounding countryside. Before climbing up to the temple my moto driver and I shared the most fantastic papaya salad I’ve ever tasted : shredded papaya, fresh mint and basil leaves, crushed peanuts and tamarind.
  6. Wine tasting at Chan Thai Chhoeung’s Vineyard. The wine tastes mild and sweet but very nice all the same. At $6 a bottle, unfortunately I could not afford to buy any.

This evening Kotoe and I bumped into the British couple again and ate at Smoking Pot – again.

A bus ticket to Phnom Penh costs $4 if you purchase it from the bus station, but $5 if you buy it through one of Battambang’s guesthouses or hotels

Photo is of Battambang’s famous bamboo train.

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