Battambang is a pleasant city about 4 hours by bus from Siem Reap. The city is noted for its French Colonial architecture as well as a diverse range of adjacent tourist attractions. I was first underwhelmed by this place, but I ended up having a fantastic experience here.
The bus travel from Siem Reap to Battambang was uneventful. I have no recollection of the journey itself. When we arrived, tuktuk drivers crowded the bus, attempting to entice passengers. To get to the luggage compartment and get my backpack, I had to shove my way through them.
One of the drivers appeared to be pleasant and unobtrusive. He gave out a positive feeling, and I appreciated that he didn’t shove hotel flyers in my face. He offered to drive me to a motel for free. When I inquired about how that would work, he stated that the hotel would pay him a percentage if he brought a customer in. He showed me a snapshot of the hotel, which I thought was nice, so I accepted.
My driver mentioned on the way to the hotel that if I liked it, I might hire him as a guide. I appreciated how honest he seemed and how open he was about receiving a fee from the hotel. The hotel was pleasant, and I was given a room. I didn’t want to go on a tour, but I needed to pay the driver back, so I agreed to let him show me around. He gave me a reasonable price right away and didn’t try to raise it afterwards.
I left my suitcase at the hotel and went out with John, the tour guide. The bamboo railway was the first stop. I’d seen videos of this on the internet, and it looked like a fun ride. When we came upon another cart traveling in the opposite direction, we dismounted, lifted it up, and pushed it off the track. The driver then scooped up the wheels and pushed them off the track as well. The second tourist cart carried on, and we returned our cart to the track.
The journey takes you to a small tourist area with stores and refreshments, after which you board and return. It was okay and a little different, but not particularly intriguing to me.
We proceeded to a mountain with a temple and caves after the bamboo railway. The Killing Cave is one of the caverns where the Cambodian communist regime murdered hundreds of people. The cave is essentially a massive hole in the mountain’s ground, and troops would toss undesirables over the edge to kill them. People were assassinated for transgressions as minor as wearing glasses or possessing property.
There was a temple complex on the mountain that was inhabited by monkeys.
The monkeys at the temple were more well-behaved than others I’d seen. They appeared to be largely preoccupied with themselves. I continued trying to take pictures of a mother and her baby.
The view from the hilltop temple was breathtaking. The flatness of the land struck me. According to Wikipedia, this is Cambodia’s primary rice-growing region, which makes sense. There’s plenty of space to grow it.
The mountain also features the Bat Cave in addition to the Killing Cave. Millions of bats fly out of this cave as the sun begins to set.
For roughly an hour, the bats fly out of the cave. It’s a never-ending swarm of bats. Because of the bat pee, the area near the cave’s mouth stinks. I wanted to walk by the cave’s mouth before they started flying out, but John informed me that the bats urinate and poop as they fly out. When the bats started flying out, the other tourists stood near the aperture and swiftly fled to safer areas.
I understand why some people dislike bats, but I adore them. Because I despise mosquitos so much, I can’t help but admire animals who devour them. Aside from killing mosquitos, I believe they’re cute on youtube videos.
I could see a cloud of bats still streaming out of the cave as I drove back to town. The thought of all the mosquitos they’d kill warmed my heart.
I talked with John a lot when we were at the bat cave. We somehow got on the subject of birthdays, and he said that they weren’t frequently commemorated (or maybe not celebrated for daughters). He admitted that it was unusual, but he was throwing a birthday celebration for his daughter, who is his only kid. The next day would be her seventh birthday. He inquired as to if I would want to attend her birthday celebration.
Normally, I would not attend a 7-year-birthday old’s party. My gut reaction was to say no since it seemed ridiculous and embarrassing. However, learning to say yes is an important aspect of traveling. As a result, I agreed to attend the party the next day.
John drove me off at my hotel, and I didn’t do anything the next day. He said he’d be too preoccupied with the party to take me up, so his cousin would. As the day progressed and my thoughts had more time to reflect, I began to suspect that this was all a ruse.
I spent a few hours looking for “scams in Cambodia.” I was kicking myself for agreeing to go to this party, and I was convinced I was being set up. The “poker fraud,” I assumed, was the most plausible suspect. A “friend” asks you to play poker with him against a jerk of a neighbor. They promise you that they will feed you good cards and that you will all win the money from your neighbors. You will lose all of your money by the end of the game.
To prepare for the party, I hid my wallet and everything valuables in my room. I removed the keychain from my key, which had the room number on it, because the driver knew what hotel I was in. In case I wanted to arrange a cab back to the hotel, I brought $20 or $40 in cash. I then proceeded to the lobby to wait. I sat there the entire time reminding myself how stupid I was for saying yes.
When the pick-up time came, I was relieved to discover that the ride had not arrived. Someone came in and inquired whether I was John’s friend just as I was about to get up to go back to my room. Shit! We got on the way after I told him I was.
The cousin stated he had to make few stops on the way to John’s residence. He went inside one store and bought some photocopies, and I realized it had to be related to the con they were planning on me.
The cousin went on to say that he needed to pick up another “buddy.” It’s here, oh boy. This will be the “asshole” friend who we will defeat in poker. I was thinking to myself. I was seriously considering asking him to pull over and getting out right then and there, but I didn’t.
When we arrived at the house, the cousin exited and went to the door. A man and lady emerged a few minutes later and climbed into the tuktuk. In his hands, he had a dubious book. This has to be a new twist on the poker con, I reasoned.
The couple said they were from Korea when they introduced themselves. Then they revealed that they were missionaries, and John was a member of their congregation! The book in the man’s possession was a bible. Then I realized I’d worked myself up into a frenzy for no reason.
When we got at John’s house, he was overjoyed to see me. The birthday celebration was, in fact, a birthday celebration. The Korean pastor delivered a brief sermon in Korean, which was translated into Khmer by a translator. After then, it was back to the usual kid-birthday festivities.
Cake, cousins, food, and confetti were all present.
I felt relieved and delighted. I also felt silly for allowing my cynicism to get the better of me. But at the very least, it didn’t stop me from arriving.
The beer was brought out after the pastor had left. We then proceeded to spend the rest of the night on the front of the house, talking and drinking.
It had been a terrific evening. I never imagined a child’s birthday celebration could be so entertaining. It was fun to feel less like a tourist and more like someone hanging out with new pals for a while. The birthday party in Battambang would become one of my favorite memories from my two years on the road.
John picked me up the next day for additional sightseeing. We were both a touch tipsy, but we managed to see a few places.
This vibrantly colored temple was a sight to behold. Even though I’d just seen some of the world’s top temples, this one was really cool. It made me wonder if the Angkor temples were originally painted as vividly.
We spent a couple hours looking at various items.
I was interested in learning more about Cambodia’s terrible history, and John didn’t seem to mind. He told me about his father escaping from a camp and spending years in the forest. He also stated that his father adored his mother, but that his mother despised him. As a result, his father went to the village’s party leader and arranged a deal. The government then forcibly relocated his mother to be with his father. It sounded depressing.
John drove me back to the hotel after a day of sight-seeing and we said our goodbyes. I was on my way to the next location the next day. When I got off the bus, I felt like I had lucked out with my guide selection. I had a wonderful time meeting John and his family.
I’m not sure if John’s information is still correct, but if you’re considering a trip to Battambang, I wholeheartedly suggest John Norea. He was a great person who was highly knowledgeable about the area. Please contact him by phone or email to check whether he is still available as a guide.
This concludes my Battambang City Tour. I hope you enjoyed it, and I look forward to seeing you in the next one!