Visiting rural Cambodia: Sihanoukville, Kampot & Battambang
After the busy capital, I wanted to look for more real Cambodian experiences and well… I’m not saying that my next destination is exactly that, but it’s a start…
SihanoukvilleAlso called THÉ place to be if you’re looking for a party. People have been comparing it to the wild party scene like in Vang Vieng. But truth to be told, while I was there, the European Championship just started so people were just hanging out in bars watching the games. So there wasn’t much partying going on, not that I was looking to party. The place itself was rather calm during the time, the town itself is mainly catering to people who want to chill and relax on the beach. There are tons of bars/restaurants on the beach, so you don’t even have to move your lazy ass out of your comfortable chair to get a bite to eat. I already even saw some middle aged/retired guys there chatting it up with some local women. Not saying they were all “pros” but it did remind me of Thailand a bit. Sigh… What I did do, was get my open water diver certificate (ISS)! I spent all in all 3 days getting the certificate, with the first day going through the theory and tests and the final 2 days doing the practical part of the course. This was one of the goals during my trip and I originally planned to do it in Thailand. But I figured I had time so why not do it here. At the time there weren’t that many other divers there, just one other diver who was also doing the course. And seeing how there were only 2 instructors, we pretty much had a one-on-one class with them. The dive sites weren’t really that spectacular, did see some interesting stuff, but not really worth it to dive I think compared to other parts in South East Asia. After 3 days I passed my final practical test and can call myself a certified open water diver! Ready to dive all around South East Asia for the remaining of my trip!
KampotAfter Sihanoukville, I traveled with my fellow student diver, Roman, to Kampot. Not exactly sure why we went there though, but I think it was because of the Bokor National Park and Bokor Hill station. This place was known for its amazing views of the coastal plain. The grand, four-storey hotel-casino, the Bokor palace, the entired holiday village, church and postal office were abandoned when the Khmer Rouge came charging in. Making it a ghost town. I think that was the reason why we wanted to visit it. However, on the day that we rented the motorcycle, the rain was pouring down heavily and we decided it wasn’t worth the hour+ drive up there and have shitty view. The next day the weather was better, but Roman had to keep on going, so I rented a motorcycle myself and went up the hill. I have to be honest, I didn’t manage to get to the hill station because the signs were not that clear at the top and I was low on gas with no refill stations around. I didn’t want to get stuck at the top of the ghost town with no gas to return, so when I was nearing the top, I turned around and went back to town. It was a rather nice ride up there though, but I think it would’ve been cool if I managed to see the hill station!
“Explore lush rural countryside by moto or bycycle, climbing hill-top tempes and riding the bamboo train“. That’s what the lonely planet said about Battambang and that’s exactly what I did! The bamboo train was thé main thing to do here and which attracts the most people I think. To be honest, it was cool, but not really worth the amount of money you had to pay to ride it. Damn tourist traps! But it was cool to see how they actually use these train to transport things from one point to the other by using only 1 rail for both directions. When 2 trains cross, the one with the least weight gets taken apart to give way to the other train. The bamboo trains themselves were amazingly simple, just 2 axis of weels, a bamboo platform and an engine with break connected to the back axis.
When the Khmer Rouge was fleeing from the Vietnamese, they fled to the west and along their way they captured tons of prisoners as well. Here in Battambang they have killing caves, similar to the killing fields, but in caves. They would stack the bodies and people in the caves and using it as a killing site. Nowadays the buildigns that used to keep the detainees has been remodeled/reused as a temple. Inside you can find many colorful budhist paintings on the wall. Really hard to imagine that such horrific things happened here just 30 something years ago. To end our stay in Battambang, me and my new travelpartner, Mareike, went for a bike ride in the nearby rural villages. I don’t remember exactly where we were going that day, but we passed through a lot smaller villages along to the way. They said Battambang was a big city, but in the city we had no idea how big it was. The people were all living along and on both sides of the river. All the way through we would see a lot of smaller houses and local merchants, schools and temples along the road. Tons of kids would come out running out of their houses yelling “Helloooooooooooo” and waving enthusiast to us. I’m not sure if I would have gotten the same reaction if I wasn’t with Mareike, a blond caucasian German girl, but it sure made the trip a lot more fun and seeing how these kids, sometimes living in poor conditions and orphans (we passed by an orphanage as well) would be so happy to see foreigners pass by their neighbourhoods.