Sunday, 14 April 2013

Battambang, Cambodia

Battambang is my favourite discovery in Cambodia so far. It is the second largest city in Cambodia based on population, but has a small town feel, without the excessive traffic, persistent begging, noise and bustle of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Most tourists pass through Battambang on their way to or from the Thai border crossing at Aranyaprathet/Poipet and as a result, often only spend a night there. As a result, it has not become a massive tourist destination and has been able to retain it's character. But there is a lot of history in Battambang and so many things to see and do.

First and foremost, it has become home to one of the most important people in my life, my mum. Not a big drawcard for other travellers, but definitely my number one reason for going there! Aside from my mum, there are a slew of awesome people, both expats who are colleagues of Mother Dear, and locals who have become her surrogate family. I fell in love with every single one of them and can't wait to get back and visit them all again. And it is comforting to know they are all there looking out for my ma when we cannot.

Apart from these great people, the Bong (as the cool people call it), has so much to offer in terms of history and culture. The Battambang region was one of the last strongholds of the Khmer Rouge and is home to some gruesome monuments to that time. However, the attractions are not limited to those relating to that era.

There are many Pagodas and temples in the surrounding areas as well as the most well known attraction, the bamboo railway. And outside the main town centre, the area opens up into vast rice paddies giving rise to it's reputation as the biggest area of rice production in the country.

I got to really experience Cambodian life in the Bong. I was fortunate to be invited to a Khmer wedding, a community event that lasts 3 days, is set up in the middle of the street and plays music through massive loudspeakers so the joy can be shared for miles around! (Well, maybe not miles, but certainly anyone in the near vicinity gets blasted with wedding music from 6am to 10pm daily for the duration of the celebrations!)

The wedding was a blast. Food and drinks flowed freely, all the ladies were dressed to the nines and the atmosphere was particularly celebratory (some people got carried away with the free flow of beer and later passed out in a chair at our favourite coffee shop, Kinyei, but I won't mention any names....*cough*...*mum*....*cough*)

I was also dragged kicking and screaming (not really), to Sky Bar not once, but twice! I think we were a bit of a novelty given we were the only non locals there!

The amazing Tara introduced us to her favourite place, affectionately known as "Wonderland". 

 And I got to do "ice cream day" with the kids.

Phnom Sampov (the bat cave), was a definite highlight. Millions of bats fly out of this cave every day at sunset and form endless streams in the sky as they go out in search of food.

As was the Phare Ponleu Selpak circus, where kids are trained in acrobatics, art, music and performance.

Too soon, it was time to leave and the lovely Dani and Kate put on a "pot luck" dinner at their humble abode. It was a great way to end my visit, good food and amazing friends.

Battambang is a fascinating place filled with amazing people. A relatively undiscovered corner of Cambodia that begs further exploration. I loved every second of my time there.

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