24 Oct

To get from Sihanoukville to Battambang you have to suffer through another night bus. Night buses are quickly becoming one of my least favorite activities. They basically guarantee chaos, broken sleep, multiple seemingly unnecessary stops and some sort of unexpected occurrence. We were told by the person who booked our bus tickets that we would get a shuttle from the pier in Sihanoukville that would drop us at the bus station. When we got off the boat, however, everyone told us different things and we had to choose between two shuttles, one of which claimed we needed to take a tuk tuk, which we knew wasn’t true. We were attacked by tuk-tuk drivers that simply wouldn’t give up. We hopped into an unmarked white van stressed out as hell and headed towards the town. The bus driver went all the way down to the pier that we had left from when we went to the island and tried to drop us off there. Yet again, we had to show him the address on our bus tickets and he eventually made it to the place. A few minutes later we were gathered by a man who walked us back to the Monkey Republic hostel, where we had stayed on our only night in Sihanoukville, where the bus was parked. 

We got on the bus, which was supposed to take 12 hours, and quickly realized that we were on a bus with people going to all different locations, including Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. So we knew at some point there would be a stopover. Additionally, the bus was pretty dirty and I think we all left it having killed a few bugs. I could actually feel bugs throughout the night crawling on me. At midnight we were awoken and told to get off the bus, collected our bags, and moved to another bus after about half an hour. The second bus, which was experiencing mechanical problems, took about another 30 minutes to finally leave. Apparently, throughout the night, the bus was making stops to toss water on some sort of mechanical part of the bus because it was overheating. Nothing could sound more unsafe. We were supposed to get into Battambang at around 7:00 AM but ended up getting in at around 9:30. We were all actually fine with this later arrival because, surprisingly given the circumstances, we all slept pretty decently on the bus. We took a tuk tuk to the hostel, We Be Dragons, had massive breakfasts, checked in, and started our day in Battambang. Initially, we were going to spend two nights here, but after some consideration we determined we could get it done in one day so that we could be in the more lively Siem Reap for Jess’ birthday on the 22nd. 

We agreed with the tuk tuk driver on a price for him to take us around to different locations that afternoon, starting at 2:00. First, we took a walk around the town, fooling around at the local “gym” in the park, riding some rocking horses, and peeking around a troubling Japanese product thrift shop that was on our map. Afterwards we went to a shopping center where we laughed at all the phrasing on the clothing. The morning was excessively hot and definitely one of our sweatiest in a while so we were happy to have some air conditioner relief for a bit. Afterwards a half hour downpour started, ending just before we took off with our tuk tuk driver for the afternoon, cooling down the climate immensely. 

The activities in Battambang weren’t exactly exciting and I’m glad we limited ourselves to one day. The bamboo train, the main tourist activity, is composed of simple slabs of bamboo on a big board that you sit on atop wheels. The cart is propelled by a motor down a straight line of tracks. The railway had previously been Cambodia’s national railroad before it was abandoned in the 1970s during the Khmer Rouge. The train opened again in the 1980s, but with consistent guerrilla fighting the infrastructure suffered greatly. As a solution, the people created norries, the cart described above to transport people and goods down the existing railroad, using poles to move the carts forward before adding engines in the 1990s. All that remains today is 7km of track. While a good historical experience, the train itself was less than thrilling, especially considering our ridiculous visions of the bamboo train. I, for instance, envisioned some fully bamboo train cart along bamboo tracks that you had to propel yourself down. Once you get to the end of the track, before turning around, they make you walk around the small village, where hoards of children try to sell you bracelets, badgering you with rehearsed lines such as “if you want to buy come to me” and “two for one dollar, you buy”. It’s equal parts depressing and impressive as those kids could all be successful sales people (with the exception of the one who admirably and hilariously offered all 20 of his bracelets for a dollar when we were leaving). 

Afterwards, we went to Phnom Sampeau which has a few temples at the top of the mountain and caves, including the killing cave. The killing cave is another location where, during the genocide, dead bodies were thrown. Civilians were executed at the top of the mountain and thrown into a hole with a massive drop that leads into the cave. Yet another sickening method of killing and burying during the genocide. As you continue up the mountain, monkeys surround the temples and seem to jive with the locals that live up there as well. The height offered some exceptional views, making the sweaty trek up completely worth it. After descending to the bottom of the mountain we grabbed a seat and a beer to watch the bats fly out of the bat cave, which contains an enormous amount of bats, all of which come out at 6:00 PM every night for food and return at 4:00 AM. Since there are so many bats, the process for them all to exit the cave takes an hour. The massive amount of bats flying in a synchronized wave across the pink, sun-soaked sky created an unforgettable image. 

Afterwards, we headed back in our tuk tuk to the hostel, desperate for showers to get the film of sunscreen, bug spray, dirt and sweat off our bodies. With the exhaustion of the night bus and the day catching up to us, we simply ate at the hostel and headed to bed early in preparation for our 7:30 am morning bus to Siem Reap.


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