After Siem Reap, we headed to Battambang. We didn’t really know what to expect, but we were pleasantly surprised by this town! Our first day in, we walked around in the heat trying to get a feel for what this place was all about. We found a local hostel that had shared tuk tuk tours at affordable prices, so we booked one for the following day.
That evening, we headed over to the circus. It isn’t what you’d expect. It’s actually a performing arts school called Phare Ponleu Selpak, which provides artistic and educational opportunities to at-risk and impoverished youth. Students there perform a circus show most nights. It includes dance, music, and circus/performing arts. Eventually, there are job opportunities for students to perform in the professional circus they founded in Siem Reap (and I believe Phnom Penh), as well as music and dance opportunities throughout Cambodia. We had pretty low expectations, and we were blown away by the talent.
The next day we were picked up by our tuk tuk driver and tour guide, DJ. We were joined by a lovely Australian couple for the 10 hour tour. Our first stop was another temple in ruin, though not nearly as cared for as those of Siem Reap. There was also a giant buddha next to it, which was never completed because its foundation was destabilizing the ancient temple.
Because the buddha structure was never completed, the inside was a bit bizarre. There were a few smaller buddhas, but when we went down to look at the basement, it was flooded and there were unfinished buddha statues down there in the water.
We stopped at a local temple that had been used by the Khmer Rouge to house prisoners, torture them, and eventually kill them. It was a sad memorial, and out of respect, we didn’t really take many photos. What happened to the Cambodian people during the time of the Khmer Rouge was horrendous, and I don’t think many people really know of the atrocities they faced unless they have visited Cambodia. The old temple and kitchen, which were used as the prisons, are still on site, but no longer used in any way. They have built a beautiful new temple next to it and many monks live on site. Here is Shawn’s one photo:
Some of the other things we did while cruising around the Battambang area:
We also climbed a million stairs to visit the Banan Temple, which is one of the larger, more up-kept temples in the Battambang region. It’s at the top of a hill, so required quite a hike to get to the top.
We drove through the countryside more, stopping at a farm where Shawn helped plant some cabbage and made friends with the farm kids.
We also spoke with our driver DJ about his life a bit. It turns out his family escaped the Khmer Rouge and fled to Thailand. He was born in a refugee camp and came back to Cambodia in 1992. While refugees, his family tried to get to the US, Australia, and New Zealand. They were turned away because his uncle had ties to the Khmer Rouge. His uncle, however, was granted a visa to New Zealand because he would have been murdered in Cambodia for having been associated with the Khmer Rouge. It was great to hear a local’s epic story, however sad.
We also went to the Killing Caves of Sampeou Mountain, which are caves on top of a mountain where the Khmer Rouge took people to kill them. It was really sad. Once again, we didn’t take many photos, but we did get a few of the temples on top, the view, and the monkeys.
Our tour came to an end with a viewing of the bat caves and watching the bats fly out at dusk. This happens everyday at dusk – about 4-5 million bats fly out of a cave in a huge stream and head about 50km away to the Tonle Sap and the floating forest to feast on insects before streaming back to the cave at dawn. It was quite a sight, but hard to capture and completely fascinating. It was a great end to the tour.
The following day was spent at a cooking class (Cambodian food post coming soon!), as well as relaxing and travel planning.
Overall we absolutely loved Battambang. The people, the culture, the atmosphere – it was all so good! There were a lot fewer tourists, and the experiences we had felt very authentic. The food in Battambang was the BattamBOMB – so good!
One of the things I love about Cambodia is the will and disposition of the people. After facing such a horrible war and genocide, they generally aren’t bitter – instead they are thriving, happy people, eager to meet visitors (and make some money), share the beauty of their country, and move forward in life. In going to Battambang, I feel we got to see a side of Cambodia many tourists don’t get to see because they just go to Siem Reap to see the Temples of Angkor. So if you’re in Cambodia and have the time, go to Battambang!