A tuk-tuk tour around the Battambang countryside

Another 'view from the tuk tuk' shot.

There’s more to visiting Battambang than the Bamboo Train and the colonial architecture, hire a tuk-tuk or rent a motorbike and go exploring!

We opted for a tuk-tuk and hired it out for the day, our first port of call being the aforementioned bamboo train, which took a whole other blog post.

Here is the rest of the day

From O Dambong village, where you catch the bamboo train, our driver took us along bumpy rural lanes through the surrounding countryside. We passed through small villages and from the bench seat in the tuk-tuk I could see the local cottage industry, discs of rice paper drying on frames under the hot sun.

The driver pulled onto the verge under a home-made sign for a Crocodile Farm. Crocodiles are farmed all over south-east Asia for their skin, and I presume their meat. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see it but, in the interests of animal welfare I went in.

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The crocodiles were basking in the sun, contained in concrete enclosures, and there were hundreds of them. A raised walkway kept us out of snapping range, the crocodiles eyeballing us as we moved along.

It smelt really bad. I asked the woman showing us around about the stench and she said it was fish. Hmmm, pretty old fish if you ask me! Chris probed a few questions, how often they were fed, how old they were, how many they had. I forget the answers, I was too in awe of the fearsome reptiles languishing below.

I wonder if they can sense their fate.

The main crocodile export from Cambodia is actually baby crocs, which we didn’t see, maybe these were the breeders. The live baby crocodiles are exported mainly to Thailand, Vietnam and China, destined for the dinner plate.

I assumed at the time the crocodiles were being bred for their skin, for handbags, shoes and belts. With further research I discovered that individual crocodiles need their own enclosures for this purpose, to prevent damage to the hide. A mass of crocodiles in a single pen does not reap quality skins.

It seemed sad to me, seeing these majestic creatures confined in concrete but, looking at the bigger picture, if there is a big demand for the skin and meat and surely it is better to farm them than to decimate their wild populations, already on the brink due to hunting, pollution and loss of habitat.

 

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Wat Ek Phnom

Leaving the crocodile farm feeling a little depressed, our cheery driver took us further on to Wat Ek Phnom, a ruined temple dating from the 11th Century.

Situated on a small hill behind a newly built temple, Ek Phnom is a romantic relic built during the reign of Suryavarman I,  one thousand years ago. The Khmer Rouge tried and failed to completely destroy it in the last century, and for a few dollars now you can explore to it your heart’s content.

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Wat Ek Phnom is perfect for whetting your appetite for Angkor Wat, it may be a jumble of stones but remarkably the temple  still retains some wonderful carvings, the highlight of which is the ‘Churning of the Ocean of Milk’ featured over a door lintel, a carving rich in Hindu mythology.

Along with a couple of domestic tourists, we were the only ones at the site, we wandered around, clambering up to the doorways. Inside, the temple was decorated with a small Buddha statue and incense wafted through the crumbling corridors. 

As we explored some young ragged local children followed us around, leaping over the fallen stones like imps. A frail old woman appeared like an apparition from behind a tree, hands held out, begging. These poor families must be ones that light the incense, still using the temple for its original purpose.

 

It was early afternoon and we were feeling a little sun-weary, heading back to Battambang. We asked our tuk-tuk driver if we could visit the old Pepsi factory, on the outskirts of town, I’d read about it in the guide-book and on blogs. He shook his head saying it was gone. We knew it was derelict, that’s why we wanted to see it!

He indulged us and took us anyway, but he was right, the factory {seemingly a fine example of art deco architecture} had been flattened, there was absolutely nothing to see. Disappointed, we climbed back into the tuk-tuk and he took us back to our hotel and we arranged for him to pick us up later in the afternoon.

our tuk tuk transport for the day

our tuk tuk transport for the day

The day ended at Phnom Sampeau, a limestone hill rising up out of the flat landscape. The craggy mountain is ribboned with stone stairs leading up to the summit and down into its tragic heart.

The path led up through trees at first then opening out into food stalls, the views across the plains below was impressive and limited only by the haze.

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We passed a golden reclining Buddha, resting peacefully under a shelter of names. Further up we watched many macaques tumble and cavort, their sharp eyes always on the look out for a food opportunity.

At the summit sits a temple, around 700 steps up from the tuk-tuks and market stalls below, its golden corn-cob prang spires piercing the sky. Heady incense draws you in to be rewarded with colour and calm.

Battambang | Cambodia-2311 Battambang | Cambodia-2312 Battambang | Cambodia-2327

A steep staircase leads down into the caves below, under a natural rock arch. Down here the story turns unbearable. This is the Killing Cave.

The Khmer Rouge slaughtered many innocent people, bludgeoned to save ammunition, and threw their bodies down into the caves through the natural sky-lights in the roof above, a mass grave.

Today the bones have been gathered up, some displayed as a reminder of the evil, and in their place there now stands two statues, serenely guarding the desolate space.

A mass grave, many innocent people were bludgeoned and thrown into the cave by the Khmer Rouge, the cave is know as the Killing Cave.

A mass grave, many innocent people were bludgeoned and thrown into the cave by the Khmer Rouge, the cave is known as the Killing Cave.

It is a sobering place, like the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh, the caves here are a grim reminder of Cambodia’s brutal and troubling past.

the golden spire of the temple on top of the hill.

the golden spire of the temple on top of the hill.

We walked back down the hill heavy-hearted, it is impossible not to feel moved by the history here. Back down at the base of the hill the market stalls were busy and ringing with calls for “cold drink”, “water, you want water“, twenty-first century Cambodia came back into sharp focus.

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An unfinished giant Buddha, his head peaking over the uncut rock face!

Walking along the dirt road to find our tuk-tuk driver, the lane was now full of tuk-tuks and was milling with tourists. People had arrived to see a natural spectacle.

Their eyes were trained onto a heart-shaped vent in the rocky mountainside. Standing below, the smell emanating from it was overpowering and unmistakable, it was bats.

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As the daylight began to fade bats began to stir in the cave mouth, then a few looping flights out and then in. Soon the bats were streaming out in their millions, a never-ending river of bats that flowed over our heads and headed off over the countryside.

The bats pouring out of the cave are the Wrinkle-lipped Bat, a species found all over south-east Asia. It roosts in huge colonies, leaving at dusk to feed on insects over the rice paddies, working on the principle that there’s safety in numbers as small raptors swoop in for the kill, plucking bats from the mass.

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It had been a thrilling roller coaster of a day, the soaring high of the Bamboo Train, the melancholy of the crocodiles then the disappointment of the flatten Pepsi factory. The Ek Phnom temple had lifted our spirits and the climb up Phnom Sampeau had got our hearts beating ten to the dozen. The bats had been a fitting finale, only nature can recover you from the horrors of humanity.

Cambodia Bats from Rachel A Davis Vagabond on Vimeo.

Keep travelling:

Angkor Wat The most famous temple of all! Probably!

How To Do The Temples Of Angkor a perfect 3 day itinerary to see the temples with tips!

Sublime Smiles and Long Corridors: Angkor Thom and Preah Khan. Those enigmatic faces of Bayon!
Banteay Srei and The River Of A Thousand Linga The most beautiful temple of all and the river where it all began.

The Bamboo Train. Battambang and its Quirky Railway Whizzing down the line at 40 mph on a pallet!

Looking For The Irrawaddy Dolphin One of the rarest dolphins in the world on the Mekong River in Kratie.

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6 Responses

  1. Emma Mann says:

    I loved Battambang! Such an extremely sobering experience at the Killing Cave. The biggest thing I took away from Cambodia was how resilient the Cambodian people are. The Khmer Rouge and the genocide was only in the 70s, not really that long ago, and there are so many people who still remember when that happened. I remember my mum flipping out when I told her I was going to Cambodia, she was worried!

    • Rachel Davis says:

      It was such an amazing day, the Killing Cave was certainly sobering. Just recent awful history, photos of child soldiers still haunt me.
      It is an incredible country, you are spot on regarding the Cambodian people’s resilience.
      Aw, bless your mum. Think my dad freaked out a little when I told him we were going to Syria! In hindsight, it does go to show: you never know how quickly things can change.

  2. Jennie says:

    We arrived in Battambang yesterday and are very much looking forward to going out and exploring today. I’m finding your posts so inspiring and helpful! Can’t wait to ride the bamboo train 🙂 Jennie x

    • Rachel Davis says:

      Woohoo! I’m jealous of you now then, all in chilly wet UK! haha, have an amazing time, full of adventure. The bamboo train is so much fun, just be prepared for the pushy vendors, try to get friendly with your driver (ours loved my attempt at Cambodian) and you’ll have a blast! xx

  3. Another lovely posting. Do you remember how much you paid for the tuk-tuk for the day? It sounds like a very fascinating day, and also very long! You did so much! And what a varied day too – beautiful new temple buildings, old temples disintegrating, bats, etc. Look forward to your next posting!

    • Rachel Davis says:

      Hello! Chris thinks the tuk-tuk cost $25-$30, he was lovely and he had a big tuk-tuk. He took us out for the tour in the morning, then back to our hotel for a snooze and something to eat. He came back and picked us up later to take us out to the hill and the bats.
      It was an amazing day, so many highlights but I think my favourite was the Bamboo Train, it was so much fun.

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