Thursday, March 10, 2011

Battambang, Cambodia

We pulled into Battambang yesterday afternoon, escaping the worst of the heat in our air-conditioned bus.  It was a short ride from Siem Reap and mostly uneventful.  We've hit some of the most touristy spots in Cambodia but, unlike many places we've been, the locals still vastly outnumber the tourists almost everywhere.  The bus ride was no exception.  There were about 10 white faces and the rest of the travelers were Cambodians.  The bus was packed with the most beautiful children and their mothers, some sleeping, some playing.  No one on that bus was afraid to make noise.

Our lunch stop was a stinky and sweltering dirt field in some nowhere town.  The women lined up for the toilet while the men went anywhere in the back corner of the lot to relieve themselves.  I found found myself standing on a stinking pile of rotting meat and peeing into a decomposed coconut.  Too much detail?  Robyn was saved by having a bladder of steel.  She can always pass on the nasty bathrooms. 

The menu was about as attractive as the toilets.  Included were battered and deep fried whole snakes.  Entire young chickens had been simply defeathered, battered, and fried.  Beaks, feet, everything. 

We skipped lunch.  I decided to drown out the bus chatter by listening to the iPod we brought along.  This is the first time in over two months that I've had headphones in and it felt a bit weird.  The music I was listening to was so polished, so clean.  It spoke of things that seemed so far away from where I am now.  In this place, everything has rough edges.  I turned off the music, instead opting for a recorded lecture given by philosopher Alan Watts.  He was an American that studied Easter philosophy.  He came back to the west in an attempt to describe it all to us in a way that we could understand and I think that he's done a fine job.  By the end of the lecture I had nearly attained satori and had come to terms with my own mortality.  A fairly productive bus ride I must say!

So we drove into Battambang and wandered around, trying to decide what to spend our one day in town doing. We found a nice coffee shop on street 1 1/2 that was run by a bunch of foreigners who split their time between making lattes and working for NGOs.  They they ran bike tours in the morning that took travelers out to the countryside and into various home-scale industries.  Sounds sweet, sign us up.

If this person was riding down the street in Saskatoon, I'd be worried.  Here, this outfit is just a way to avoid the sun and the bike is just a way to bring your wares from place to place.

These things are like the front halves of tractors that can be hooked up to a cart.  They haul anything you can imagine from concrete cylinders to multiple families.

We got up at 6:30 am the next morning and hopped on our bikes.  It was a very nice morning, the perfect temperature and humidity.  First stop, a rice paper shop.  One family runs this business and sells a day's production for around $5.

Thin circles of rice paste are put on bamboo sheets to dry.
I tried my hand at making rice paper and the results are predictable.
  We kept biking down to a rice field where we learned the process of planting, transplanting, and harvesting rice.  It seems like a lot of work but the country is built on the rice industry.

A bit down the road, we got to a fish paste factory.  I don't know who could eat this stuff.  It is made by letting fish rot for four months with flies all over it.  The farmers love it.

Pile of fish bits on the floor of the fish paste factory. 
This vat of fish bits will sit for months with flies all over it and then be sold at market.

Here's a video of some fish guts with maggots crawling all over them.  Yummy!

The last thing we saw was a big monument to the victims of the Khmer Rouge reign of terror.  It was filled with human bones that had been collected from all over the region.  Their skulls were visible through the windows and on the outside of the building, there were bas releifs telling stories of that period.

We've heard a lot about the history of Cambodia and everything is starting to cement itself in our minds.  I thought that I had enough pictures of torture instruments and human skulls so I opted instead to take a picture of a very skinny cow that was grazing nearby.  You'll never find a steak in this country and it's probably because all the cows look like this:

This is where low-fat ice cream comes from.  Wha wha.
Tomorrow we're heading back to Phnom Penh for a day and then we're flying into Bangkok and jumping right on a bus for the south of the country to start our permaculture course.  It may be a busy couple of days and we might not have much to say so if you don't hear from us we're not dead, we're just very boring.

David J Parker

1 comment:

  1. Ok,
    I'm all caught up! Keep 'em coming! :) Miss you guys! xoxo