This is the fifth (and last) of my guides to Cambodia
Well, this post has been a long time coming… don’t take that as any reflection of quality, mind you. And again, this post is focused on Battambang, as it’s where I’ve spent the vast majority of my time when in Cambodia.
The Smoking Pot Cooking Class
As mentioned in my previous post, Smoking Pot has cooking classes – quite possibly the first of its kind in Cambodia. Usually operating in the morning, they provide a great introduction to a Khmer cooking. Make sure you book a day or two ahead!
Vannak (who runs Smoking Pot) will take you down to the market and purchase all the ingredients for the meals you’ll be preparing – and the market is an experience in itself. He’ll then lead you through making three meals – which you then will eat, so don’t have much in the way of breakfast beforehand! Vannak’s very good with the classes, and quite happy to chat about Cambodia in general.
The Bamboo Train
Cambodia has a very basic and unreliable train system – in most places, there’s no longer proper trains running. However, in and around Battambang there is the Bamboo Train – platforms of bamboo wood, metal wheels on axels, and a motor to power the whole thing along – which can be hired to get from one village to another.
For the most part, these are used by locals to ferry goods around, but can also be taken by tourists. It’s not the most comfortable ride in the world, but you get along at a decent clip, and you get glimpses of the Cambodian countryside.
Also: as you can see in the photo above, it’s a single track – so if there’s another bamboo platform coming in the other direction, whoever has the lightest load has to take their platform off the tracks.
Perhaps it’s the adrenalin rush from such an unsafe adventure – seats, let alone seatbelts, don’t exist – but this is easily one of my favourite things to do in Battambang.
At some point, the train line is probably going to be torn up to make way for a shiny modern system (as part of China’s cross-Asia train line) – so if you’re in town, make this a priority, as you may not get another chance!
Phare Ponleu Selpak Circus
Another highlight of Battambang is the Circus at Phare Ponleu Selpak. These kids are extremely talented – I wouldn’t be surprised if plenty of them find themselves in Cirque du Soleil shows.
The performances they put together are a lot of fun – even though it’s all in Khmer, you’ll easily pick up on what’s happening. There’s performances at least once a week – make sure you get along.
One of the hills close to Battambang is Phnom Sampeau. If you take the stairs up, you’ll find several temples, as well as the Killing Caves. These caves were where many Khmer were killed or maimed and then left to die. It’s not a happy place, but it does help with understanding what the people of Cambodia have been through – and are still recovering from.
On a lighter note, you get some great views from up on the top of the hill. Also, if you stick around until late afternoon, you’ll get to see millions of small bats streaming out from the many caves to find food for the night. I’ve only managed to see this once, but it’s really quite something to watch.
Phnom Sampeau is probably too far for a tuk-tuk journey – the roads aren’t sealed for most of the way, so taking a moto is a far better option. If you speak to your hotel, or ask at restaurants, you should be able to find tour guides and moto drivers without too much hassle.
One fantastic way of getting around Battambang and the surrounding areas is by bike – and there’s now bike tours, run by an organisation known as Soksabike.
This has only started up recently – a good friend of mine has helped get it going – but from what I’ve heard the guides are getting better and better, and it’s a great experience riding out through Battambang to the nearby villages.
Battambang – much like most of Cambodia – is extremely flat, so it’s really easy to get around by bike. Don’t feel you have to be super fit to give this a shot.
More Temples and Touring
There’s several other temples nearby – Wat Banan is perhaps the best known. Quite old, it’s like a small version of some of the temples you can find in the Angkor complex. The one catch is it’s on top of a hill, and the stairs are a killer.
You can also check out some of the local industries – rice paper, fish paste, rice wine and more – as part of your tours, whether that be by moto, tuk-tuk, or with Soksabike.
Well, these Cambodia posts have taken me a long time to write. Hopefully they’re useful for others in providing some perspective on Cambodia, Khmer people and Battambang. I’d love to hear from anyone who has made it to this corner of the world and what you thought of the experience.