Battambang is about 5 hours NW of Phnom Penh, and for us was a lesson in crazy driving in Cambodia. Our driver seemed determined to get us there as quickly as possible using any part of the road necessary with no regard for things such as oncoming traffic – simply terrifying is an understatement. We were very glad to make it to our beautiful (and upgraded) hotel Maisons Wat Kor. Our original hotel was full so they happily sent us to their boutique sister hotel, and it was like walking into a little lush jungle paradise. The rooms were French colonial style with high ceilings, massive beds and dark wood throughout, so lovely. We had two connecting rooms and as there were no other guests – exclusive use of the pool, and it was less than GBP 50 only per night for 2 huge rooms. Accommodation in Cambodia is relatively cheap but also very good quality, as we confirmed when we checked into our original hotel, the Sanctuary Villa, which was just as lovely.
For foodies who might be interested we’ve found the food in Cambodia to be very good with curries and stews being the main diet here. Here at MaiWat Kor it was fine dining Khmer-French fusion style – beautifully presented and delicious.
After consulting our trusty Lonely Planet we decided to visit the Ancient Houses in Wat Kor village, which turned out to be next to our hotel. They are elevated wooden teak houses built during the early 1900s with high ceilings and feet polished mahogany wide floorboards. At one of the houses’ Mrs Bun’s house’ we got talking to the niece of the owner, Mrs Bun, and arranged to come back the next day for a traditional Khmer lunch cooked by her mother-in-law, which included the delicious Fish Amok. During our lunch conversation, in a mix of English, Khmer and French (the older generation all speak French here) we learned that Mrs Bun had inherited the houses after all of her family were killed during the Khmer Rouge period. They now run it as a museum and homestay.
Battambang, as a town, was a bit of a disappointment as there is not much to it, but we enjoyed a day out touring the surrounding villages and temples with our remork (tuk-tuk) driver.
We did visit the crazy Bamboo Train, a system of bamboo boards on removable train wheels, driven by a 6.5hp lawn-mower engine. These homemade ‘trains’ rattle along the old French railways tracks at considerable speed – terrifying when you see how warped the old line is! There is only one line so when there is another ‘train’ is coming towards you, the carriage with the smallest number of people gives way by getting off, lifting its carriage off the track, then putting it all back on again once you’ve passed! Tiring but ingenious!
“Super-scary, it made a loud ker-klunking noise – I thought I was going to get thrown off and die!” Ollie.
We also went to see the local circus troupe called Phare, which performed an hour long feast of acrobatics, music and humour that we all loved. Phare is an important local charity, now running a free school for over 1,200 children, who also count circus skills in their curriculum. The best graduates perform for the public, and some turn professional and have gone on to join Cirque du Soleil.
“I definitely got shivers when the ghosts started spinning down from the roof in the show called ‘Chills’. I absolutely loved the circus show!” Cam.
But as usual it is the people that make a place, and we had the good fortune to meet up with 4 lovely American ladies who were great fun and even taught the kids how to do Yoga – thanks Nancy, Susan, Sam & Debbie. And would you believe it another two guests, Bob and Paul, live in the next town from us at home, and we even have mutual acquaintances! Big world?…no, quite small really.
Our next stop is the town of Siem Reap and the famous temples of Angkor Wat.