Monday, April 5, 2010

Battambang to Bangkok

I had to quickly finish the last entry, ending on how funny it is that you end up meeting up with people randomly that you didn't particularly expect to see again. This happened to me while I was in Battambang. I happened to re-meet a Swiss guy, Klas who I had met on my last night in Siem Reap. It had been his first night and we had gone to dinner with another sole traveller and I had shown them around a little bit of the town at night time. As he had only just arrived in Siem Reap that night, I naturally didn't expect to see him again.

However, after catching the boat to Battambang and arriving in the late afternoon, checking into my hotel I was exploring the city at night after some dinner. My conclusion was that there was little activity and most people were in bed by about 8pm. So, I had started to make my way back to my hotel to read or something when a girl and guy rode past me on bicycles. I thought, hang on, that guy looks really familiar, no, he wouldn't be here in Battambang. They stopped in front of me before a hotel and then he turned around and fancy that, Klas was in Battambang. It was a funny moment. He'd decided when he had woken up that he would catch the bus (which coincidently beat me to battambang) to meet up with some other friends who he had previously travelled with who had just arrived in town.

From that chance meeting, we decided to go together as a group in the morning (Easter Saturday) to explore the country side of Battambang. Klas, Hillary (the girl he had been bicycle riding with) and myself wanted to get dirt bikes to do this. However, four of the other girls had already organised a tuk-tuk driver. So what ended up happening was that Klas and I hired 250cc dirt bikes with Hillary a pillion with Klas. Then we followed the girls in the tuk-tuk around for a few hours so we knew how to get to some of the main sights of the area.

Subsequently we got sooooooo dirty!! Alot of the roads we went on (actually pretty much all of them) were dirt roads, and the main roads particularly had a bit of traffic and some trucks going which ended up in lots and lots and lots of dust. Absolutely filthy by the end of the day, but it was definitely worth it and so much fun! I was loving being on a 'real' motorbike again even though my foot was a bit painful changing gears initially (the swelling hadn't completely gone down yet).

First we went to the killing caves where we had to climb a mountain in sweltering heat. Upon arrival at the site, we had to pay $2 each to the "tourist police" - funny concept yes I know, but basically the tourist police charge you to visit historical sites, or for doing the wrong thing etc... Then we climbed the mountain, with the help of 1 child guide (we had to argue hard to get down to one). He showed us the killing caves, where the Khmer Rouge had bashed the heads of women and children and then thrown them into the cave. At the site the bones are kept in a glass cabinet on display to respect the deceased and as a memorial shrine of sorts. There were a few other caves on the mountain that we explored through as well, most with bats using them as a home.

After the killing caves our little party went to a village where we saw different fruits and vegetables that they grew, tried some different fruits and sugar cane. Before our group split up, the last thing we did in the afternoon together was to ride out to the bamboo train to have a go on that. Apparently it will be closed next year, but it is debatable as to whether that will really happen because they have been saying that for a few years..

We debated for a while over the price, and ended up hiring 2 bamboo trains. One to carry us, and one to carry the 2 dirt-bikes. Bamboo trains are basically 2 axles and a big bamboo mat with a small motor that is placed on top. They can be dissasembled within seconds and there is a hierarchy that determines who has right of way when two trains meet when going in opposite directions. Ultimately, the train with the largest load ends up getting right of way, and a motorbike or scooter wins regardless of the load due to the difficulty (and lack of space on the side of the train) of getting them on and off. On our little 5km journey we ran into another opposing train which meant we got to watch them pull it apart!

Once we got off the train we all went our separate ways as us 3 on bikes wanted to go and visit the temple ruins (can't remember the name) which are believed to be a bit of a pre-cursor to the temples of Angkor Wat. Having already been to the temples of Angkor, I could definitely agree that they were made by the same sort of people in the same kind of style. The temples were on top of a massive massive hill which took quite a while to climb up on. Once again we met with the tourist police at the bottom of the hill and had to pay another $2. If we had been another 20 minutes later we would have missed them as they had left by the time we reached the bottom of the hill.

On the way from the Bamboo train to the temple, we got ourselves a little bit lost. But it was so much fun! We were tearing about and riding on these little dirt tracks that took us through many many villages where children would come running out yelling hello. Very cute and reminded me alot of Africa days. It was nice to be out amongst the real people of Cambodia rather than the touts and people harrassing you. Everyone was extremely helpful. We stopped many times for directions to the ruins and everyone always gave us directions, with our limited english-khmer exchanges.

The last thing we did before it was dark was attempt to find the abandoned Pepsi factory that was abandoned in 1975 with the Khmer Rouge take-over. According to Lonely Planet it was easy to find, with all the equipment still in place. It was not an easy find at all!! We struggled to find it and eventually managed to do so. The areas that you could access (by jumping a fence) had all been looted and pretty much burnt down, but there was 1 old broken glass pepsi bottle still in that area. The majority of the warehouse was now shut-off with padlocks on the doors. Peering through the grates and cracks in doors you could see rows and rows of bottles, but little more as it was getting dark.

It has been interesting to note over here in Asia that there has been no reference anywhere whatsoever to Easter, no easter eggs, no hot cross buns (I was craving them yesterday!!). Complete contrast to back home where I saw hot cross buns in January before I had even left Australia!!

Yesterday on Easter Sunday I caught a bus from Battambang to Bangkok. It was a very long hot and sweaty ride as always. We got on the bus at 8am, arrived at the border a few hours later and waited in the queue for at least 30-40 minutes. There were about 50-100 people waiting to leave Cambodia with only 1 officer at the desk... agrrhggh! But eventually I made it through, crossed the 'friendship bridge' and past all the casinos of poipet and quickly passed through the border into Thailand.

Once through I had to wait about 20 minute for a pick up truck to collect us and take us to a restaurant where we waited for the bus. We waited for almost 2 hours for the bus to come!! Subsequently we arrived into Bangkok at 6pm instead of about 3pm. I met a Shannon, an American girl on the boat and we got along well together so ended up sharing a room here in Bangkok.

Bangkok is not what I expected. I guess I expected this crazy big built up city with traffic everywhere. Yes there is traffic, but from my observations, compared to Saigon, Bangkok is alot quieter. There aren't as many high rises and its actually kind of cool. I am staying on a street parallel to Khao San (the main backpacker strip) which has a really nice atmosphere. Right now there is a guy playing live acoustic guitar outside the guesthouse where I am staying. I'm enjoying that alot!

Today Shannon and I went exploring the city by foot and got through all (or at least the majority of) the shopping that we needed to do. I got myself a new phone (finally 2 months after mine was stolen), at least it is new to me. It is technically a 2nd hand phone, but still it's new to me! :) We walked quite a few kilometres in the heat, but it was good as you could stop and jump into a 7/11 for some cooling air conditioning if the heat and sweat got too much. You aren't harrassed by the touts and tuk-tuk drivers any where near what you are in other countries. I learnt that today (Monday) is the Kings day and that the Kings favourite colour is yellow, so people often wear yellow on Monday. At the moment there is some protestations happening around town, but they are peaceful. Everyone is wearing these red shirts, bandana's and these red hand clapping things. On our walk we went through a few areas where the protesters were gathered. There was a big concert where a guy was singing (I couldn't understand unfortunately) and everyone was clapping along. It seems to be about dissolving parliament due to corruption, but I haven't really looked into it too much.

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