Visiting Cambodia really felt like stepping back a decade or few in time, especially coming from trendy bumping Bangkok. The carriage-like tuk-tuks, dusty roads, and use of the word “lady” by street vendors really make it feel like you’re in a different era. This was especially prevalent in Battambang, aided by the old, crumbling colonial architecture.
I mentioned Battambang to several other backpackers we met along the trail, and none of them seemed to have heard of it. There’s not really much going on in the town, but there’s a lot to see in the little villages outside of the town. Plus, the city has a bunch of quaint coffee shops to check out.
The vibe of Battambang is quiet, so my Cambodia travel buddy Nicole & I were pretty mellow. Our first night we rolled in around 5PM, and we just walked around the tiny little night market.
Our second day in Battambang, we booked a tour of Battambang and the neighboring attractions via minivan for a whopping $8.
I initially rolled my eyes at this stop. We piled out of our van and were immediately swarmed by people trying to sell us things. Then our tour guide for the day told us that we had to pay $5 if we wanted to ride the bamboo train for half an hour. It was either awkwardly sit in the van and wait, or ride the train, so we of course rode the train.
The driver was clearly not amused by our selfie-stick.
The train is literally just a tourist attraction. It’s a little bamboo platform that you sit on which is operated by a Cambodian guy on the back. At the end of the line you get off and wait for 20 minutes, where you’re swarmed with children who have surprisingly good English asking you to buy bracelets. And of course, there is a wide selection of cheap boho-chic variations of dresses and skirts to choose from, along with elephant pants.
Before getting back on the little train after being dropped off to get milked for cash, one of the vendors whispered to Nicole and I “Please tip the driver. The owner of the train is very corrupt and barely pays them anything.” Sadly, this wasn’t the first time we were slyly hinted at to give someone or not give someone money.
This was a temple (costing $2 to get into) that was SUPER old, and actually a little bit different to see. It’s even older than Angkor Wat, as it was a prototype for Angkor Wat, and takes about 250 poorly-maintained stairs to view. This was the most Indiana-Jones like experience I’ve had since getting to Asia. The whole thing looks like its on the verge of toppling, and after viewing the maintenance (or lack-thereof) on the stairs to get to it, I’d say it won’t be around for tourists to see in a few years.
Prasat Phnom Winery
This winery holds the coveted title of the ONLY winery in Cambodia. And the wine was, shockingly, freaking terrible. But of course, Nicole & I had to do a short wine sampling, because who doesn’t have wine tasting in Cambodia on their bucket list? The tasting consisted of a horrible red wine, scarring brandy, manageable juice, and actually enjoyable ginger honey drink.
Tastes Like Chicken
When our guide told us first that our next stop was to go and eat rats, I thought he was joking. But NOPE, our tour group went to a little shack on the side of the road to sample, you guessed it, rats. Of course this was optional, but somehow Nicole & I talked each other into trying it.
So 5 of us brave souls split a big rat for $1.25. The scariest thing about seeing this little barbecued rodent was that I actually think I’ve seen it in the market in Dan Chang before. When something is flayed open with the head, fur, and tail removed; you can’t really tell what it is.
Review – the rat did indeed, taste like chicken. Dark meat chicken. It also came with a little sauce, classy. Also horrifying – someone could easily slip this into fried rice and I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between it and chicken. Concerning. But I survived, so the verdict is that meat is meat.
Facebook video proof here. Worth watching just for our tour guides’ commentary.
Phnom Sampeau & the Killing Caves
Cambodia is littered with different memorials and creepy tourist stops from the not-so-long-ago Khmer Rouge. Near Battambang is a cave where around 10,000 bodies were thrown, allegedly after being clubbed to death.
This particular attraction requires walking up a small hill. There are dozens of motorcycle drivers at the bottom offering to take you up for a small fee, and unless you’re disabled they’re completely unnecessary.
Walking down into the caves literally feel like something out of a horror movie. I don’t know if it’s because of the people that died there or because it’s a cave, but it’s deathly still, and there’s a reclining Buddha next to a small memorial full of skulls on one side of the cave.
After exiting the cave and walking a little higher up the hill, there’s another pretty temple. This temple and other temples in Cambodia were different from what I’ve seen elsewhere in that they were Buddhist temples, but done in Hindu style. So the temple complex featured Hindu gods, but still had Buddhist monks and shrines to Buddha. And there’s monkeys, because there’s always freaking monkeys.
Our final attraction of the day was at the base of the hill of Phnom SAmpeau. Every day at sunset, a neverending horde of bats flies out of the cave for the evening. Our guide warned us not to sit under the path where the bats fly, as tourists get peed on all the time.
So there you have it. Aside from Khmer cooking and finding a good coffee shop, that’s about all we did in Battambang. But the vibe of the city was worth a visit.
The “Golden Gate Bridge” of Battambang. A 2-second stop, and the closest I’ve ever come in my life to actually being Indiana Jones. Things get really interesting when motorbike drivers decide to drive across while you’re still crossing. Just squeeze past me, I’ll only fall and die, it’s okay.