On the road to Battambang, allegedly the nations Art capital & is Cambodia's second most populated city, about 1 million people. Pat is our guide & Chen our driver - as we are just 2 we travel in style in a very comfy Toyota Camray.
Such an interesting & experience packed day! Started with a conversation with Sinorng at the hotel entrance. He is doing a degree in HR (in his last year) funded by the hotel's foundation. So many great schemes around to help young people.
Another Silk Farm we think but this is 'same, same but different' to use a local expression. The whole process happens here from growing the Mulberry to feed the caterpillars to the finished products. Again, a scheme to provide education, training & local employment. The products are of excellent quality but surprisingly nothing is exported! All is hand woven & the girls have incredibly nimble hands & superb memories for the patterns.
As we travel towards the Thai border the soil becomes more fertile & huge ricefields abound, including paddies of Sticky Rice plants. The rice is exported to China & Vietnam through Thailand. The farmers do not get a good price because of the middle man taking his cut! We stop to see a rice harvesting group at work, all done by hand & extremely physical work. However, if they brought in machines they would all be out of work - usual conundrum!
Corruption again, just as there is huge over-fishing & illegal killing of birds for food but the official looks the other way for his bribe. One policeman was even seen selling an Eigret! Politically it is also interesting as the Cambodian National Rescue Party got 68 seats in the recent election & the Cambodian People's Party 55 - but somehow they have remained in power!!?? It wouldn't happen in most other countries says our guide - not so sure about that!!
There has been much flooding in the province in recent months so the road becomes pretty bumpy again. However, some of the towns we pass through are relatively wealthier as they can trade across the Thai border. It shows when the motorbikes for sale are all brand new!
The villages we pass through are all known for their own specialities - home grown produce, crafts or local foods. We stop & try out some fried river snake but not the sparrow or other small birds. Sadly (!) they have run out of grilled country rat! The banana jerky & fresh pineapple are much more acceptable!
Lunch is in a local version of a transport cafe on the main road which continues on all the way to Bangkok! The food is surprisingly good, although Stuart's chicken had a few more bones in it than expected! 4 meals plus drinks cost only $13, probably considered dear locally! Our last stop before reaching our destination is a rice paper village - a cottage industry using primitive methods to make the rice paper for spring rolls and for other types for snacks. Too complex to explain here but it is hot, repetitive, & all for a very low income.
Battambang - located on the banks of the Stung Sangker River the city is said to be home to some of the best preserved French Colonial architecture. You have to look up & look hard as the shop fronts below the old frontages & shutters are pretty garish. It needs some planning rules & regeneration to bring it back to as it was. Tourism is just coming here so hopefully someone will realise what they need to do. The waterfront could be beautiful with some sensitive restoration.
The ancient temple ruins of Phnom Ek again are in need of money for restoration. The Buddhist Temple looks so-so from the outside but the interior is incredible with murals painted post Pol Pot era, the carved wooden pillars & a great Buddha, spolit only by the LED lights added behind it! More temples survived Pol Pot's regime in this area due to the conscience of a local commander.
Dinner in the Gecko Cafe in the town centre. We are loving riding round in tuk-tuks & think they should be introduced in London! We are greeted by enthusiastic young girls with limited English & very high voices. The seating is on a verandah above a shop, up almost ladder-like stairs, in one of the hidden colonial buildings with great shutters. Fantastic Pumpkin Curry & Chicken in coconut - superb value & fun ambience.