After an eventful, stressful and awful bus ride to Battambang we got dropped off at the edge of the city meaning we had to take a tuk-tuk to our hostel. Luckily it only cost us $4. We arrived at our hostel Here Be Dragons absolutely shattered but interested to see what Battambang had to offer. There are only a couple of hostels in Battambang as it is still a relatively untravelled destination. Up to this point in our trip, we had not met anyone who had been or planned to go to Battambang, so we hoped we hadn’t endured the bus ride for nothing. However, this actually ended up being some of the best days in Cambodia and we had a fantastic experience here. We had pre-booked at Here Be Dragons in their cheap fan dorm ($4 a night which was very hot despite a number of fans in there) and we were lucky we did as it was pretty booked up the whole time we were there. It is a really cool hostel with a number of seating areas inside and out, a roof terrace, a bar that also does food and they also put on different events each night such as screening certain TV shows, cocktail nights, quiz nights and yoga.
As we were starving but couldn’t check in yet we headed to out into Battambang town- across the river from the hostel. We found a cafe, which there is no shortage of in Battambang and ate breakfast at Kinyei Cafe trying rice porridge- a savory soup with rice, vegetables, spices and herbs ($3) whilst Dave had fruit, yoghurt and seeds ($3) as well as a peanut butter and banana toastie ($2.25) all of which was delicious. We were very pleasantly surprised with Battambang town itself. It is only small, there is not too much there but there are quite a few westerners that have settled to work at NGO’s there. This means there are lots of cool cafes and coffee shops where often a portion of their profits go to dedicated NGO’s or they run training or provide employment opportunities for local people. We wandered around Battambang, getting our bearings and exploring what the city had. It was very hot so we found another coffee shop so that we could cool down in their AC. Cafe Crema was a very interesting and classy shop. It had an incredible cold brew station designed as big Ben. We ordered some and it came out so we could put it together ourselves in martini glasses with water and sugar syrup ($2 each). The fanciest looking coffee I have ever had! From here we walked to the local mall, which was not worth getting hot over before heading back to relax at Here Be Dragons feeling much better than we had in the morning.
Whilst relaxing there we were looking into the things to do in Battambang- mostly there are lots of sites to see out of the city. DJ (one of the dedicated tuk-tuk drivers for Here Be Dragons) was also chilling out and told us about the tour he was doing over the next few days with a couple of other people. We hashed out details of where we wanted to go (as we didn’t want to do all the things the other people were doing) and decided on a price. Deciding to go on a tuk-tuk tour with DJ was one of the best decisions of our trip! In the evening we watched the first two new episodes of Doctor Who that the hostel was showing on the roof before going out for food at the White Rose restaurant (meals $2-3). When we got back to the hostel we met the people we were going on the tuk-tuk tour with and spent the rest of the evening hanging out with them as well as some people from another hostel.
In the morning, after catching up on some sleep, we headed to Cafe Hoc- a local NGO cafe that served buffet breakfast for $3. We were pleasantly surprised to find a healthy selection in the buffet- fruits, oats, rice porridge and delicious freshly baked rolls and bagels. It was so good we went there for most of our other breakfasts whilst we were in Battambang as it was such a good deal.
At 12pm we joined the others (Katy, Micky and Stejn) to start our tuk-tuk adventure with DJ. We first stopped to get an iced coffee at a local place he knew, then we journeyed into the countryside. He pulled over in a small village to show us the fruit bats just hanging about in a few of the trees. Then we made our way to Prasat Banan. This is a hill temple that was built in the 11th-12th century. We made our way up the 358 stairs to the top. The architecture was stunning and we explored the old ruins as well as having a chat with a monk. We made it down from the temple just in time to meet DJ at one of the covered restaurants at the bottom as the heavens opened and the water flooded down the stairs. Whilst we waited for it to stop some of the guys ordered food and DJ invited us for a meal at his house that evening. We gladly accepted and he phoned his wife to let her know that she would have 5 dinner guests!
When the rain stopped we got back into the tuk-tuk and headed towards Phnom Samprov area. On the way we stopped so Stejn could take some photos of some lily pads but we ended up finding some local men ‘field fishing’- getting little fish from the mud of the field.
DJ dropped us off in Phnom Samprov area- at the bottom. There was the option of walking up to it or to get a pickup truck to a few of the local sites for $1.5 each. We opted for this so that we would make it back in time to see the bats. The truck took us up to one of the killing caves which looked haunting in themselves before you even knew what had happened within them. There is now a small memorial (including some of the bones that have been found here) and Buddha in the cave where people can now pay their respects. The pickup truck then took us to another peak where we had great views over the local area, saw the temple on the hill as well as a lot of macquaes trying to steal food.
We returned back to DJ after this where he took us to a spot on the road. After a few minutes of waiting, we got to see millions of bats exiting one of the bat caves for the evening to hunt insects and mosquitos in the fields. It was quite extraordinary the quantity that came out of this cave- it lasts for about 40 minutes. We watched for about 20 minutes before DJ took us to see another one of these bat cave exits. We were the only ones at this spot and DJ also took us further into the rice fields to view the bats coming overhead. They come over in waves making snake-like movements in the sky.
Officially this was our tour over for the day. Instead, however, DJ took us all back to his house to meet his family- his two little boys and his wife. Jimmy was about 11 months old and super cute. Tommy was a bundle of energy- doing circus skills, thumb wars and rough and tumble play with the boys. DJ provided us with beers and kept popping off on his motorbike to get more beers or snacks. We sat on the floor in their one room home and had a delicious feast with DJ and his wife. She was very happy we liked her food and kept encouraging us to eat more and more! We talked about their lives and their plans for the future- to hopefully open up a guesthouse/ homestay where tourists can experience the way locals live. After an incredibly enjoyable and interesting evening, DJ dropped us back at the hostel.
In the morning we ate at the hostel before DJ picked us up to go to the bamboo train. These trains are small bamboo and metal plates on wheels that were used to utilise the existing railway tracks and get goods/ people to the villages after the Khmer Rouge were destabilised. Nowadays the locals run trips on these for tourists ($5 each) to the village and back to make some money out of it. It was a fun 20-minute journey sat on this plank, going much faster than you would think you would be able to go. At the other end, you are hounded by local children trying to sell you jewellery and other items. We spoke to a young girl and bought three bracelets off of her for $1. Then we made the journey back again. Very touristy but fun and something different. After the bamboo train, we thanked DJ as we had finished our time with him and gave him a tip on top of what we agreed for being so amazing. He was incredibly friendly, knowledgeable and generous. We would definitely recommend getting him as a guide if you go to Battambang (DJ tuk-tuk tours).
In the afternoon we headed to the western supermarket for some bits. On the way back we stopped in at Cafe Eden where we shamelessly shared a peanut butter chocolate square ($2.50) and ice cream cookie sandwich ($2.50) with coffees ($1 each) as our lunch! After doing some research on Siem Reap we chatted to some new people that had arrived in the hostel. We headed out to the local night market with them where we were able to get cheap meals for $1.50- 2. In the evening all of us participated in the pub quiz put on at the hostel. The pub quiz was packed with ex-pats now living in Battambang. We made our team- calling it ‘DJ BBQ’ after dave’s hat as we hadn’t thought about it until we were asked for a name. Beers ensued, we did ok with the quiz coming in the middle of the pack. At the end of it though we ended up with free shots for the “originality of our team name” and got the winner’s beer tower as the winner of the quiz was a lone guy who said he had drunk too much! A very fun, lively evening.
The next day was a quiet one. Once eventually up we headed to Cafe Hoc for breakfast accompanied by some of the guys from the hostel. We sorted out photos and blogged a bit at the hostel. In the afternoon we went out to take some photos in Battambang as the architecture was particularly interesting and grainy. We visited a local photographic exhibition in the upstairs of the Battambang Traveller shop where they often have exhibitions from local artists there. We had more coffee at Cafe Crema, enjoying the AC again. We made it back to the hostel just in time before the rain and thunderstorm hit. The rain was spectacularly heavy, flooding the outside of the hostel- which gave everyone a great excuse to enjoy playing out in the rain as well as watching the lightning with a beer. For food, we went to the Chinese noodle shop- having duck noodle soup ($1.75) and really tasty fried dumplings ($1.75).
Our last morning we filled up on breakfast at Cafe Hoc and packed up all our stuff (that had been outside or on the roof trying to kill any potential threat of beg bugs from the bus!). Then we headed off on the Mekong Express Limousine bus to Siem Reap ($6, 3&1/2 hours, AC and comfort!).