Battambang is a small town (the provinicial capital I think, but a small town to my eyes) and the guide book waxes lyrical about is colonial architecture. But let’s face it, we’re here for one reason and one reason only – bamboo train!
We get here from Siem Reap by boat and it’s a long but pleasant journey as we keep stopping to pick up passengers and cargo from the floating villages along the way. When we arrive, it’s a tuk-tuk driver feeding frenzy, as the drivers jump on board just as we’re all trying to disembark, trying to sell their services. Our driver is called Bun (he says his surname is “Intheoven”) we have trouble understanding him, not because his English is bad, but because he sprinkles his conversation liberally with English idioms he’s picked up and likes the sound of, like “you’re my brother from another mother” and “a dingo stole my baby“.
We engage Bun to take us on a tour of Battabang’s sights the next day. First stop is of course the bamboo train. There’s a ten mile stretch of railway and the trains consists of an engine, wheels and a bamboo frame on top. It goes pretty fast, or at least it seems to because you are out in the open and so close to the ground. There’s only one track, so when you meet someone else coming the other way, one of you has to disassemble your train and remove it from the track to allow the other to pass.
The village at the end of the track has made the most of its position on the tourist trail and two little girls of 8 and 10 make us jewellery out of palm leaves and show us around their village’s brick factory as if it were a major tourist attraction. When one of the girls gives Colin a palm leaf ring, I joke that they are now married and she will have to come back to London. The girls giggle, but their mum remains stony-faced and says “No, she is too young.” Maybe it wasn’t the best joke to make in a country with a significant child sex tourism problem.
Also on the tour was Wat Banan, a temple up the top of a mountain (hill) which is supposedly the inspiration for Angkor Wat, but nobody really believes that apart from the locals. There is a mine clearing operation going on on the hill and lots of reminders to keep to the marked path.
Bun also stops the tuk-tuk at one point to show us a tree heaving with huge fruit bats. Bun says that they eat bats in Cambodia and that they (predictably) taste like chicken.
Having exhausted the delights of Battambang, we return to our hotel, where we have the following conversation with the proprietor.
“Hello, key for room 10 please.”
“Blass pee mee”
“Blass pee mee! Blass pee mee! You know this word?”
“In the Alien film, the woman is fighting the alien and the alien says “I am evolution” and the woman shoots it with a gun and says “Blass pee mee!!“”
“Errrr, can you write it down? …Oh blasphemy! “
“Yes, blass pee mee. What does it mean please?”
“It means saying something bad about god, or saying god does not exist. It doesn’t tend to come up a lot in conversation to be honest.”
“Ok, I see. Blass pee mee.”
“Blass fur mee.”
“Blass pee mee.”
More photos of Battambang are on Mr Beet’s flickr page.