It’s been a long day; we spent 6 hours on the bus to Battambang (it was only supposed to take 4 ugh). I had a super numb bum when we arrived but we’ve had a chilled afternoon. I had fish Amok earlier; a traditional Cambodian curry which is made with coconut milk and spices, and steamed in a banana leaf. I’ve had it a couple of times now and I think it might be my favourite local dish that I’ve found across SE Asia thus far. We’re absolutely exhausted but excited for a day of exploring the town tomorrow.
We’ve just come back from an absolutely incredible tour. We decided rather last minute that we fancied doing a tour of Battambang, predominantly because all of the sites we wanted to go to were out of the town centre. We found a guy called Bun on tripadvisor who does tours on his tuk tuk. We’ve never done a tuk tuk tour, so didn’t really know what to expect, but it was absolutely amazing. We went to a couple of the touristy sites; the old Bamboo Train (there is a new “inauthentic” one that was built because the main train lines were being taken over, but the locals still run the original illegally on the old tracks), and a couple of temples including Ek Phnom Temple, which was mostly destroyed under the rule of the Khemer Rouge. However, in between these sites, we stopped at loads of different places to learn how traditional foods are made in family businesses; sticky bamboo rice, dried banana and mango, rice wine, and rice paper for spring rolls. Production methods are passed down generation to generation, and people come from all over the region to buy from them. Watching them at work was absolutely fascinating, and we even got to try each one.
Bun’s knowledge of Battambang and Cambodian culture was absolutely phenomenal; we learned so much about how people actually live their lives, which unfortunately is quite rare on organised tours where you’re just driven from place to place in a van. Even just stopping to buy fuel from a roadside seller, he explained that their government exports all of their fuel to Thailand, and there are people over there that bring it back via the black market and don’t pay tax on it. He explained so many problems that “countryside people” (farmers) face with their yearly income basically entirely dependant on the weather, as this dictates their harvest (and their livelihood). It’s scary to think how global warming is going to affect these people even further, as weather patterns become less and less predictable he fears their exporters may become impatient if demand is not met.
Bun even spoke to us about his family; he lost many of his family members to the genocide, including his mother’s siblings. He expressed his dismay at the fact that children currently don’t really learn what happened at school, but that fortunately the “Internet generation” are a lot more aware of their countries history via their own research. Still, many of his family members, and that generation in general it seems, refuse to talk about those dark times.
On a more positive note, Cambodian children are absolutely beautiful and seem so happy all the time. The children we drove past in the tuk tuk were so fascinated and excited to see us, and waved frantically; apparently a lot of them will have never seen white people before.
For a town that we only decided to visit last minute, it’s been a truly fascinating and educating experience. Our day with Bun was one of my favourite days of travelling so far; everything we did was so pure and real. I’m leaving this town feeling content with my own life and grateful that I will likely never be in a situation where my income and livelihood is entirely out of my control. These people don’t have a lot, and it’s clear that their past is hanging over them like a black cloud, but they have one of the most pure and beautiful cultures I’ve ever experienced.
As I said to Elliot; Cambodia is a metaphorical lotus flower. The lotus begins growing in muddy water, rising up and above the murk until it breaks the surface and opens out into a beautiful flower.