Battambang sits approximately half way between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. It doesn’t have the tourist pull of the latter or the commercial focus of the former, but it does have a bamboo railway! The infrastructure of Cambodia is still suffering from the years of the Khmer Rouge which included the decimation of it’s railways. The bamboo railway is a very makeshift affair, the bamboo platforms are placed on a couple of axels and powered by a motorbike engine. The whole thing can be disassembled in minutes, a necessity as there are no sidings so when you meet someone coming the other way along the track it’s a short tense wait to see who gives in first and moves off the track. The trains do get up to 30 mph and it certainly feels like it when you are sitting at the front.
We had hired a tuktuk for the day and the driver chatted away about the country, his family and the various plants we passed as we motored through the countryside. He showed us both sides of the country from the farmers terracing the riverbanks and the Muslim fishing villages, to the killing cave, another dark and macabre reminder of the Khmer Rouge complete with monuments portraying some of the worst atrocities in vivid detail.
The caves on the other side of the mountain were the home to millions of bats. At sunset they leave their cave in search of food, it is a remarkable sight to seem them fly in such numbers that they darken the whole sky. Earlier in the day we had seen a tree that was literally where the fruit bats hung out. They didn’t wait for the dark but hung from the branches like winged squirrels!
Battambang itself was a relaxed town, cut off in many ways both from the rest of the country and the world, it possessed a faded colonial style. The architecture was unmistakably French but there was also a pride in the inherited public spaces and gardens that harked back to that colonial past.