First off I’d like to apologise to you all who are reading for the delay in the production of this latest splurge. There’s plenty to say as we’ve been having lots of fun but no time to write about it. Ahhhhh I did manage to update the photos on the home page, which I’m sure some of you out there have already seen. OK let’s get on with it, here’s the latest addition to our blog…………
As promised when we left the north of Cambodia into Laos we’re back, and in Battambang. Battambong it’s pronounced, or more correctly Bat Dum Bong. During our travels we’ve heard mixed reviews but me cockney spara’s words are enough to convince us we’re in for a good time. Assuming that is, we get back in the groove for some action. The ankle is getting there, so no excuses now.
It only took just over three hours on the bus, the decision to avoid the boat seeming a sound one. A keen Tuk-Tuk driver followed us from the main bus station to the city centre and kept his promise of free transport to the hotel, which is located alongside the river, compared to the Mekong it’s more of a stream. In return for the free ride, which we tipped for anyway as you gorra repsect someone who’s willing to work 🙂 we agree to giving drive a job in the morning, to visit the Bamboo Train, what ever that is, at ten.
Our plan of moving south is rewarded, it’s red hot and chattering teeth in Luang Prabang now a distant memory. It’s about five so we start the evening with drinks at the hotels sky bar to catch the sunset before six. It’s not bad but hazy and is so for the rest of the trip, not that we viewed them every day tho’. It’s a $1 Tuk-Tuk over the stream to the sign that indicates pub street. I’m happy it’s not like Siem Reap, just a few bars and restaurants. It seems like our sort of town, a bit like Kampot maybe? Actually it’s the 2nd largest city in Cambodia with a wealth of history. It’s nowhere near as mad as Phnom Penh and actually feels like a town. It’s a bit like Phnom Penh in 2002 in that the streets are poorly lit, but the need to jog to the next bar is happily not there. We don’t venture too far tho’ not wanting to push things on the first night, but do take a wander down another poorly lit street towards a possible bar it’s difficult to tell. A bar it is tho’, a French wine one, so we partake in a glass or two and then head back to the stream and over the bridge to the digs.
The evening is a very significant one, as unbelievably Cardiff City Football Club are Back in Blue. I’m over the moon to be a Bluebird once more. Our crazy owner has agreed to it following a chat with his mum!? Well thank you so much Mrs Tan, your boys mad ideas it seems are nowt to do with your upbringing. I want to give you a big cwtch as I can now love my first love once more, it’s all still a bit fucked up tho’ and I won’t feel relaxed until the mad man has walked out the door. There’s obviously more to the reversal than meets the eye, plus our badge is still a mess. Anyway I’m as happy as a pig in shit, it was so unexpected! It don’t even matter if we get relegated, which could happen, as on the pitch we are meant to be shockingly bad if what I’ve read this evening can be believed. Let’s hope for a bit of unity now off it! Those fans tho’ that helped push it all through, the change to red, in my opinion should be ridiculed, they were instrumental in the whole embarrassment. Let’s hope they now hang their heads in shame, but supposedly being on the pay roll of the club at the time, I bet they couldn’t give a toss.
As agreed the next day we’re away in the Tuk-Tuk at Ten. Just on the outskirts of town drive stops at a roundabout with it’s obligatory statue. This one is particularly impressive tho’, a big one of a guy with a stick. Drive transforms into Guide and explains in pigeon english the history behind the big man named Ta Dambong. Well the name Battambang is Khmer for lost stick, the magic stick that the man lost that is. However before he lost it he obviously found it first and when he did as guide explained. “He not know stick have magic power, not know. One day he shake stick chickens, chickens afraid, chickens run away. Man know stick magic, use stick beat king with magic power see. Then run away forest, later someone come after him on white horse from sky. He throw stick but stick miss and then cannot find stick. Man run away”. We all love a bit of magic and at the time it was a funny story, much better told than the ‘official version’ in the guide-less book I can assure you.
The tale and delivery of it, was worth a tip for sure. Onwards we head to the bamboo train, not having researched it we’re unsure what awaits us. From being in Kampot we know there’s a Cambodian rail network but it’s generally fallen into into disrepair, and hardly utilised. One place it is used is here in Battambang, a small section of it anyways. Driveguide explains that the big trains stopped running about twelve years back as there were too many accidents occurring, the trains kept derailing. So what is the Bamboo train – It’s a small platform made out of Bamboo positioned on a pair of axles with a motorbike engine. The original tracks run for quite a few clicks to a small village, we board and away we go. It soon becomes apparent as to why the trains were derailing, the tracks are fucked, warped to bits! I got mates that work the rails at home and I’m sure they wouldn’t believe their own eyes if they seen some of the joints and general rail condition. It’s like a skateboard come mini roller coaster, up down left & right, the joints which are out by as much as 20 to 30mm are bone shaking, your whole body convulsing like a jumping jelly bean. When the girl selling the tickets said you get a free massage, she wasn’t kidding :-).
We pass a few dwellings and various locals walking the track. A group of young boys are playing, jumping into the river. The speed we are travelling gives everyone enough time to clear the tracks. It’s good fun and then in the distance there’s another train heading our way, being a single track without sidings, a head on is inevitable. Fear not the anchors are on and both ‘trains’ stop, there’s a mexican stand off but agreement is soon reached, us being the winners. The ‘train’ is dismantled, bamboo platform and axles removed to the edge of the track and our journey continues. A quick re-assemble and the head-on travellers are heading on behind us.
Soon we’re at the destination and there’s a collection of tents with the usual tourist garb. We get a few $3 tourist T-Shirts and $1 beers. The video gives you the general idea along with this shot of another ‘train’ fully loaded with passengers leaving the village, yes it’s all very high tech as you can see.
Before we depart we break protocol and purchase wrist bands from the local kids, I insist on Blue & White in Celebration of the Bluebirds return to their, ahhh sorry OUR rightful colours. We even buy a small painting, also in blue 🙂 a few bluebirds, bluebirds, bluebirds chants amuse the kids and were back down the track to where driveguide awaits. We decline a temple visit wanting to get out of the hottest part of the day.
Following the busiest morning we’ve had in a while, we’re back for a nap before an evening sample of the local Indian restaurant which gets the thumbs up from the KP. I’m also in agreement as it’s an improvement of the excellent nosh we had in Pakse. She may already be hooked, it’s looks like we’ll be back here for sure before we move on elsewhere.
On the second day we rise a bit later and following brekkie at the hotel have a gander about town. Try to see what we couldn’t the night before, looks like we were right. It’s a nice little town with a selection of cafe’s, bars & restaurants, randomly located through the gridded street layout, also it seems very slow paced. The KP fancies a massage and foot scrub whilst I’m on the look out for a faster memory card to be able to handle the K3’s crazy file size per shot (25meg for you geeks) ! Card sorted I’m then gathering info whilst enjoying a few pints from the various establishments, a fair number of which are art gallery’s.
There’s plenty on and top of the attractions seems to be the local circus, where tickets can be purchased on the door. Re-united and a relaxed & refreshed KP is in agreement for the circus and it’s where we head in the evening.
The first circus I ever went to was in Cardiff. Billy Smarts maybe, with my Nan and Gransh, there was lion’s, tigers & bears in addition to the clowns. Thankfully that’s been banned now in Britain and most of Europe. When they’ll outlaw zoos also who knows? This circus tonight is more of an acrobatic affair if the flyer is to be believed. On the outskirts of town, a Tuk-Tuk gets us there with ease. The city is actually quite large, plenty for us to explore then. Tickets purchased we head into the tent, and a very nice set-up. We’re early enough to grab some centrally located seats far enough back to avoid being involved in the action, hopefully. The compere explains a bit about the show and the programme they run for the community with the training of local students, in music, art, dance and acrobatics. The music provided by the band is also made up of students, so a local flavour all around.
The shows begins. Not only are they talented, but bloody funny also. First off there are four clowns, juggling, climbing, somersaulting and falling about, not to mention the hilarious sexy guy with no front teeth playing the lady. It’s all very impressive with plenty of crowd interaction. The show which runs for a full hour progresses to climbing with big somersaults, fire juggling, tight rope walking and even a unicycle tight rope ride whilst juggling 5 clubs. It’s top notch to be fair, a very professional set up, we both think it’s fucking excellent and laughed our heads off for most of it. We had a cracking time.
We didn’t sit far enough back to avoid being picked out of the crowd tho’ thankfully the guy chosen was not me but someone close by. I say thankfully as I would have been right embarrassed with my top off and belly out, not having done insanity for a long bloody while. It’s a wake up call that we both need to get in shape and soon. This travelling, eating & drinking malarkey enjoying life is no good for one’s physique.
Following the show and rapturous applause we head back to the city. Our latest drive waiting for us and his $5 return fare. We discuss the excellent evening we’ve had with good food at a local eatery called the lonely tree, which is a part clothes shop, bar come restaurant. Keeping in theme with the rest of the town, there’s a load of great shots of this solitary tree which is no doubt in the local vicinity. I wonder if we’ll find it un-aided during our planned scout about of the area ?
Two days down and the central area sufficiently gandered, we now need to sort out the item which will help us make the most of this area, wheels. If you’ve read the majority of this blog, you’ll know that I’ve made quite a thing of riding the motorbike/scooter, well coz it was quite a thing, still is actually :-). Unfortunately the super cool chopper eluded me but I did have a BMX as a kid, a blue raleigh burner, not the best but it was great and I loved it. I wasn’t so great on it, but had a good go, some of the boys were mental and would jump anything. Not so many were mega great at tricks, but one boy known as the grapler could wheelie the length of the street, a street that has 201 houses, plus extra bits each end. He could do the lot, even if it was double parked the full length, whilst also avoiding the odd oncoming vehicle. Myself I could muster two and a half car parking spaces (maybe it was one and a half actually), regardless I was happy with my effort (that’s a big fat lie) as I wasn’t the worsterest (I know it’s not a word) but close. Not sure if it’s related but I never progressed to having a real bike, one with an engine. Tho’ my adorable mad mum wasn’t too keen on the idea, yeah that must be it 🙂 ! So what I’m saying is in a long winded manor is that I was shit on a bike and therefore never too familiar with two wheel navigation. There was a brief adventure in Ayia Napa when I had a scooter for a few days, the highlight being when I hid my mates bike in the middle of a field, the next occasion on two wheels with myself at the controls was with Billy in the jungle. I can honestly say without his brief tuition and guidance, this trip would not have been so much fun. I’ve not done bad mind and with the KP keeping the faith along the way, we’ve been alright. Thinking back now where we’ve driven is a but nuts, some of the towns are crazy, road conditions often questionable. Cambodia takes the biscuit and is top of our mad list when it comes to driving about. What’s maddest tho’ is there are NO fucking RULES! Actually there are rules, which came as a surprise. It’s just that nobody bloody knows them. My interpretation of them is, and there’s only two….
Rule 1. Don’t stop.
Rule 2. Don’t look.
You need a head that can rotate like an owl as it comes at you from all angles. Dogs, cows, chickens, kids and even toddlers. The biggest threat tho’ are other drivers, they’ll cut you up on the inside and out. I’m yet to see a driver look towards the oncoming traffic when coming out of a sidestreet, it seems that it’s your responsibility to avoid them. Crossings are the best, nobody stops just slows down and play chicken with each other, everyone edging forwards to find that gap, some whilst on the phone, even texting whilst driving is common. We’re both surprised we’ve not seen a major off yet, and count ourselves fortunate not to have had any real problems to date.
Especially considering on top of texting, the majority don’t stick to driving on the right hand side as they should. Anything can come at you on your side of the road, bikes mainly usually carrying a load, but you can get trucks also. It’s manic to say the least, and that’s why we are getting our very own brand new helmets, a requirement due to our plan on having a proper gander of the surrounding area whilst here, which may be as much as a week. The helmets, which are a legal requirement, hence come with the bike, are usually shite! Like skull caps that don’t fit properly which would be totally useless in any type of off. The hotel has bikes, I try the last one left today which looks OK, the speedo works, but the back brake doesn’t, well hardly at all anyway. We search for another the second rental place we find has bikes, the back brake works sufficiently enough but the speedo don’t. We take it anyways, the only perfect bike to date has been the one from Pakse. At least more than half the bikes we’ve rented the speedo hasn’t worked, it’s almost the norm. That goes for the helmets again, the usual cheap and worn shite. We have an idea where the local store is and soon get fixed up, they are $18 and $15 quite pricey for cambo, the bike is just $5 a day. They’re a bargain tho’ when you think about it, they could save your life, so a small price to pay.
A quick search around town and the local helmet store located, our chances of once again surviving the mad roads of cambo have increased and we also look the part now :-).
So we’re all set to try out once again, my much improved, but far from perfect two wheel motoring. Our first destination is a temple ruin about twenty klicks out of town. Our journey and that beyond will be where the next instalment continues, as when compared to the last few weeks chilling, we continue to go a bit bonkers in Bat Dum Bong……………!