Being one of the larger cities in Cambodia, I thought Battambang would be noisy, full of people/scooters and all round a bit manic. How wrong I was – it instead had a laid-back, rather charming vibe to it.
The journey from Koh Kong to Battambang wasn’t so charming, taking 14 hours on the bus. Along the way the food was bizarre (sweet stringy pork in bread 😷) and on a few occasions the toilet stops were bushes on the side of the road. But at one point, I was living a life of luxury, being the only person (with Josh) on the bus!
Wednesday 29th March
With one full day in Battambang, we wanted to see as much as possible. It was a local tuk tuk driver/tour guide who took on the responsibility of making this happen.
Wat Samrong Knong and The Well of Shadows
The Wat Samrong Knong is one of the oldest Pagodas in Battambang, being built in the 1700s. We explored the grounds, before we came across The Well of Shadows.It may be a beautiful sight, however during the Khmer Rouge regime, which I will discuss in more detail during my post in Phnom Penh, it was turned into a prison and interrogation camp. The surrounding area became one of many killing fields across Cambodia. It’s believed that sadly over 10,000 people were murdered at this Pagoda. The Well of Shadows, which didn’t feel right to photograph, pays tribute to the people who lost their lives. The shrine visually features some of the horrors that the Khmer people endured during the genocide. It also holds skeletal remains of victims found in the mass graves around the temple. It’s really hard to get your head around the full extent of this awful time, which only happened 40 years ago. However this was only a small glimpse into understanding the events that took place over four years of Pol Pot’s lunatic leadership.
Bug stand and Fish market
Moving away from the history of the country, we spent the next couple of hours learning about the present lives of the Cambodian people. Our first stop was a little cart full of local delicacies including rat on a stick and fried bugs. Of course we had to try the bugs and after a few failed attempts, I somehow ate the cricket below. It was actually pretty tasty. Fish is a key ingredient for the Khmer people in cooking. Whether it’s fresh fish amok or fish sauce, they also add fish paste to their dishes as seasoning or a condiment. We stopped at a fish market to watch the process of how the fish paste (prahok) is made. It’s a rather slow and labour intensive process, which first sees the cleaning, chopping of the fish. The pieces are then left to dry in the sun. Once dry the fish bits are salted and placed into baskets where they are dried and salted again before being placed in a large vat to ferment. The reason that the Khmer people originally created this process, was for during the dry season when fresh fish was harder to find. I wouldn’t say this was the best smelling part of my trip.
We then stopped at a local families house, to watch a mother and daughter make rice paper. From what the guide explained, they poured the batter (made of rice flour, salt and sugar) onto the hot what looks like material-like tray, using the bowl to make it into a circle shape. A lid (seen in the photo below) is then put on top to steam it. Once cooked, it’s removed by a spatula and placed on wooden cylinders. The cylinders are spun round to the mother, who carefully removes the rice paper and puts them on a bamboo rack to dry under the sun. Driving through the outskirts of Battambang you can see rows and rows of rice paper out to dry.
Dried banana chips
Bananas grow in Cambodia like grass grows in Britain. There are different types, but my favourite are the smaller sweeter ones, which are by far the tastiest bananas I have ever eaten.
The Cambodia people have found different ways to eat bananas, one of which is as dried chips. You can see in the photo below a local woman thinly cutting the bananas and placing them in stripes to put out under the sun to dry. These dried bananas are super tasty, with the guide explaining that even Khmer people who have left the country still putting in orders for them to be sent abroad.
As rice is the primary ingredient of most Cambodian (and Asian in general) diets, the local people have learnt how to make this affordable commodity into an alcoholic beverage. If I’m honest this process confused me a little bit (especially with the translation). But from my understanding the wine is made by fermenting grains of rice, mixed with a variety of spices, until the starches turn to sugar making an alcoholic liquid. This liquid is placed in the metal drums with water, which is then covered and heated with a fire at the bottom. The substance then evaporates, travelling up the pipes where it is cooled down so it becomes liquid again. Then the wine trickles out into the plastic container seen below. The rice wine comes in all different flavours, including fruit and snake!
Wat Ek Phnom
Built in the 11th century, the Wat Ek Phnom temple was the last stop on our adventure into the countryside of Battambang. Hidden behind a modern Pagoda and a giant Buddha statue, which unfortunately run out of funding to be painted, the temple appears forgotten as it lays in ruins. It is however still an impressive site. So that’s my rather comprehensive time in Battambang. There were other iconic attractions, including the bamboo train, which unfortunately I didn’t get round to seeing. Surprisingly this was a province I was advised to miss, but I’m so glad I didn’t.
Jessica Storm ✌️