We spent a couple of nights in Battambang, mainly so we could spend some time exploring the surrounding countryside and see what rural Cambodia is like.
The tuk tuk driver we'd hired for the day went by the pseudonym of 'Mr. Rich' – his real name (Pengan) clearly posing too much of a challenge for the tourists. Or maybe his daytrips were extremely lucrative business...
We really enjoyed seeing real village life, accompanied by a local. We saw how rice paper pancakes (used for spring rolls) are made and dried in the sun on bamboo racks. Nothing is wasted – the piles of rice husks are used as fuel for the fire to cook the pancakes.
In another village we saw how rice noodles are made in a contraption that squeezes out the smooth rice paste and looks incredibly similar to a toy my brother had to make funny shapes with play-dough when he was little.
The next stop was a village where Prahoc (fermented fish paste used as a flavouring in a lot of Cambodian cookery) is made. It smelt precisely as bad as you'd expect fermented fish in 32 degree heat to smell. Quite apart from the stench, seeing people waist-deep in pits of half-fermented fish, scooping them out, was pretty revolting! Still, somehow tastes good in food...
After that we got some much-needed fresh air on the Bamboo Train. This is not, as I'd assumed, a train used to transport bamboo, but in fact a train made from bamboo... It operates on a single track and when faced with an oncoming train, the one with the lesser cargo or fewer passengers is unloaded, dismantled and hauled off the track to allow the other to pass. Quite a rickety experience but good fun, and we got to meet to some lovely people at the end of the line including some adorable, cheeky children.
We also visited the Killing Caves, another scene of Khmer Rouge brutality – now dotted with Buddhist temples. It's shocking to realise that there must be places like this all over the country. Our tuk tuk driver told us that of his mother's family of 16 people, only she and his grandmother survived the Khmer Rouge's regime. It's estimated that around 3 million people lost their lives – either directly at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, or through hunger or disease. Because of the lost generation, now half the current population is under 16.
From Battambang we travelled the slow way by boat to Siem Reap where the famous Angkor temples are located. It was a long journey of eight hours (including a half-hour wedged on a bank, necessitating half the men on board to pitch in with shoving it free from the mud) on a very hard wooden seat, with a deafening engine.
But it was interesting to see all the fishermen and floating villages on the way, and get a glimpse of how people live on the water. It's also an area known for its birdlife and we did see a few but they were just too speedy for our sluggish camera skills – sorry Ben!
We were delighted to finally reach dry land (the buzzing in our ears from the engine faded after a few hours...) and to arrive at our lovely (and cheap) hotel in Siem Reap, where we are now.
Hope all's good back home. For any of you that don't yet know, we're arriving back on 26th April. Can't believe our trip is going so fast but we're determined to cram it all in until the very last moment!
Take care and lots of love,
Helene and Roland xxx