February 5 was a do-nothing kinda day as Sue was flat out with heat exhaustion. I started catching up on the blog after walking around downtown Battambang in the morning. Although the second largest city in Cambodia, Battambang’s an agricultural community: early to rise and early to bed. It’s not much of a tourist mecca although many tourists pass through it on their way to other destinations.
The next day Sue was feeling relatively normal so we decided to take a tuk tuk tour around some of the local sights. From our room window we could see the tuk tuks waiting for fares in front of our hotel.
Our first stop was a tour on a bamboo railway, a common form of transport in Cambodia, especially in the Battambang area. The cars are bamboo platforms set on detached axles which run on standard gauge railway tracks. Here you can see the bottom of the platform, the axles and the loose drive-belt dangling down.
Sue and I had an entire ‘car’ to ourselves but ahead of us were a group of locals on one with a motorcycle – a typical load.
The cars are propelled along the track by Briggs and Stratton engines which are mounted on the rear. The driver controls the speed by changing the tension of the drive-belt using a pole to move the engine. Very simple, very quick to take apart and put together; which is necessary when cars meet cars coming the other way on the tracks. Because the car ahead of us had more passengers, plus the motorbike, cars coming the other way had to be removed to make way for us.
Our turnaround point was at a small village around a brick factory. We stopped there and has refreshments at a stand by the tracks. While sipping sodas Sue asked what the jar (below) contained. We were told it was bananas in beer left to ferment and I was offered a shot glass of the grog. I took a sip and then knocked it back. Warm but not unpleasant. I didn’t notice any effects, good or bad, thankfully!
We then returned to where we’d started. I took the shot below as we went over a small bridge; just catching a seated young man as we whizzed by.
We made several stops as we toured around the countryside. Below is a photo of our driver Tony and his tuk tuk. For those fans of motorcycles note he is using a Sym 150, modified to take the weight of the passengers. The cart is easily detached from the pin it is hitched to.
We did see some more traditional forms of transport as we drove along.
Along the way we stopped to admire some fruit bats, protected by monks in their trees at a pagoda, and (below) a bio fuel electric plant. We’d noticed new power lines along the road, which Tony told us were part of a joint project with a Thai company to supply power to the rural areas. Then he stopped to show us the former method of supplying power. Although it didn’t have the capability to supply the amount of power needed at the lower rate of the new hydro electric project, the bio fuel plant made a lot of sense. It produced electricity by burning corn cobs mainly, available by the sack in this agricultural area. The plant was co-funded by SME Cambodia, Canada Fund and USAID.
We then went for a short hike up a hill to visit Banan pagoda, proudly promoted by locals as the antecedent to,and inspiration for, Angkor. Despite her exhaustion the day before Sue made it up the hill in the heat of the day.
You might just be able to make out Sue, sitting in the shade of the tower on the right.
She called me over to take a look at this brightly colored lizard on the temple blocks near her.
After returning from our climb Tony drove us to a restaurant at the foot of a high hill for a lunch break. Sue struck up a conversation with a boy in a hammock next to our table.
From here we were driven to the top of the hill by motorbikes. At the top was Phnom Sampeau, a temple complex which included some caves. We took a pass on viewing the cave with the skulls of victims of the Khmer Rouge, who tossed people down into the cave to kill them.
We took a look at the temple, the guns left by the Vietnamese who captured the hill from the Khmer Rouge and the caves with their shrines, including the large statue of Buddha (below).
After coming down the hill we started our tuk tuk ride back to Battambang. The road was under construction; very rough and very dusty. I took a photo looking back at Phnom Sampeau just as we hit a major bump in the road. The resulting photo (below) is the unaltered original, as it appeared, right out of the camera. Although my camera is still taking good photos I do notice something seems loose inside.
The road was very dusty…
Sue covered her nose and mouth with her scarf and I with whatever was at hand…
Red dust covered the trees and homes along the road. Signs of progress as Cambodia recovers from the of years of civil war and joins the growing SE Asian economies.
Battambang was nice enough but the urge to get to the beach put us on the bus the next morning.