Well-massaged bottom

Guarding a wat

Guarding a wat

No, this isn’t that rude. It just describes my back end after many hours on the back of a motorbike along the rather bumpy local roads. I met up with my driver, who’s name sounds like “Cheers” and I couldn’t write it in Khmer anyway, at the hotel at 8:30. Before I start, I’d recommend him completely. I had a great day. Just find the Royal Hotel and ask for “Cheers”, the guide/guy with motorbike. He charged me $12 for the whole day – 8:30 till around 17:00. I gave him $13 and bought his drinks while we were out.

Ideally, I wanted to go to Wat Ek Phnom, Phnom Sampeu and Wat Banan. However, the latter two are off to the south west and the first 13 km from the town in the north east. As a result, it’s a lot of driving and would mean missing out on some of the sidetracking we did.

I smeared on some suncream, mounted up and we buzzed off in the direction of Phnom Sampeu. On the way we stopped at a small wat with a curious collection of plaster animals around it. Curious as none of them are native to Cambodia – giraffe, kangaroo and so forth. Very strange.

Our next stop was a fuel station where I got talking to a couple – I think Dutch. You could tell it was their first time on bikes in such conditions as they were clinging tightly to the backs of their respective bike seats. Around the corner from fuel stop was another temple, this one very beautifully painted. Unfortunately, as is common round here, the interiors are locked. Too many Buddha statues have been stolen for them to leave the buildings open at all time.

Kim Bunleang and one of his classrooms

Kim Bunleang and one of his classrooms

I got talking to a monk while I was there – Kim Bunleang. He is the branch director of the Sochiveak Thor Organisation based at the temple. They have a school there, in a hand-built building, in which they teach around 150 children. Class sizes are large and facilities rather rough and ready. They’re also short of teachers, but their current big target is to get a roof onto a second building to expand the number of classrooms.

Of course, he was after donations but I do tend to put all my efforts towards the Blue Dragon charity in Hanoi. However, I was really impressed with what they were doing and quite satisfied that this is genuine endeavour. I don’t mean any disrespect to him, but there are many dodgy “charities” in Cambodia. I don’t believe this is one.

As such, I’ve offered to help him spread the word about the school. Money’s not the only thing they’re after. If you can spend a couple of months teaching English – any native speaker is welcome to apply – then get in touch with him. I’m sure he’d be happy to split some class sizes down!

His telephone number is +855 (0) 12 73 98 89 and if you want to donate some cash their way, then they have an account with the ANZ Royal Bank:

Sochiveak Thor Organisation 784324

I gave him my card so hopefully I will be able to get some more information to you later.

"Hello!"

"Hello!"

OK, on to the next sight – Phnom Sampeau. This is a tall hill sticking out of the surrounding jungle. This being southeast Asia, it means that stupa and other religious buildings have been constructed on the summit. Cheers told me to walk further down the road and do the walk “backwards” which I did. 100m or so from the main steps is a road leading up. The view on the ascent is fantastic with jungle one one side and plains on the other.

Partway up there are some caved and a small monastic residence with an enormous Buddha outside. As you ascend, more buildings (and more Buddha) can be seen until you reach the summit where there are two temples – one Hindu and one Buddhist. There are other structures as well, including one that’s undergoing repairs or construction. Apparently the Khmer Rouge used caves here for torture and imprisonment, but I couldn’t find these – I could have done with a guide, but there were none at the bottom volunteering.

One thing I noticed as I walk walking around was that weddings are very loud in Cambodia. I could hear the music from at least two even though I was all the way up there. Also that Cambodian dogs need to be neutered – there are far too many swollen females walking around.

Hmm. Loud, annoying music and a pregnant bitch. Sounds like my old chav scum neighbour and his girlfriend.

A good walk, though. It took me about ninety minutes including all the photo-taking and video-ing. Back at the bottom, I talked to an English chap over lunch and very much enjoyed the cheapest Coke I think I’ve seen in ages – 2000 riel (50c, 35p). The locals here haven’t figured out how to rip off tourists, either, as most of the dishes were a bargain $1.50.

So many steps!

So many steps!

I did get guides at the Wat Banan, though – originally one and then somehow a second joined us. At the bottom a couple of young girls approaches me offering their services as guides. I picked the first who’d approached and we “haggled” a price of 3000 riel. There are over 300 steps up to the small temple complex on the top and I raced my young guide up the last 50 or so. I won! Mind, she was only 10.

Another little girl started following us around at the top, and between the two of them they pointed out a few things. To be honest, there’s no real need for a guide at this site, but the kids were cute and very eager. They swapped words in English and Khmer and whenever I stopped for more than a couple of seconds, they began to fan me! Back at the bottom I gave my original guide a dollar and the other girl around 2500 reil – most of my small change, really.

I sat and talked with Cheers for some time. He was really good company and the time flew before we left for a trip around the Battambang countryside. We passed rivers, villages, bridges, trees full of bats and lots and lots of children who loved to wave and shout “hello!”.

Bamboo train

Bamboo train

We stopped at the bamboo railway which has become a tourist favourite. It’s basically some small, flat “cars” that run on the old railway system. The current cargo trains only plough up and down 1-2 days a week, so the rest of the time the folk here use the rails to collect firewood and the like from around 15km away. And charge tourists $6 or so for a ride along the line.

Way back when, the carriages were “powered” by two guys with poles. Kind of like punting on rails. Nowadays they’ve attached motors to them which gives them a top speed of 60 km/h. Much more fun for the paying punters than the powering ones. I didn’t bother with a shot as I didn’t want to spend that much, and the whole trip is around an hour to the Sunset Bridge and back.

Instead we put-putted into a nearby village to see one of the historic houses there. I saw more than one sign, but Cheers took me to a particular one so I guess he knows the owner. It was very reminiscent of the Tan Ky House Leah and I walked around in Hoi An. Similarly, the owner asked for a small donation when I had finished – I gave her around $2 in small change and signed the visitor book.

She was the first person in Cambodia who I’ve conversed with in French. I always thought the language would be more pervasive given the country’s history but English is now by far and away the most popular second language. She told me the ages of parts of the house and how their furniture was lucky to survive the Khmer Rouge – most classical and non-Khmer pieces were seized and smashed. She has pieces over 100 years old.

And finally, back to the hotel. I’d have struggled to find most of the sights had I been on the bike by myself. It’s easy enough to get to the main monuments, but there is a wealth of stuff to see down the maze of country roads. Given how little it costs to hire a guide for a day out, I’d heartily recommend it – and get “Cheers” is you can!

Not a PlayStation in sight

Not a PlayStation in sight

Back at the hotel, I showered (the water was red with the dust) then sorted a share taxi to the border in the morning at $8. With luck, I can make it to Hualamphong in Bangkok before 4pm so I can book my train ticket for later this month. If not, then I will have to stay overnight – so I still can’t book my Yangon flight.

I checked out the Riverside Balcony Bar for dinner as it’s recommended for western food and it lives up to the reputation. At least the “Miami” toasted baguette (spiced chicken, bacon and mayo) was very tasty indeed. Not cheap, though, and not busy for what Lonely Planet claims is the “best bar” in the area. Directly over the street is the bar I mentioned yesterday which was again heaving with locals enthralled with the kickboxing. Had I more time, I’d have popped in and joined them – but I have botty problems of a non-motorcycle related fashion so I preferred to be near a lavatory I know and trust.

For internet I had to pop down to a neighbouring hotel, The Star. It’s a dollar an hour, the most expensive I’ve seen since I got here, and one of the PCs is just riddled with viruses. The other just wasn’t that great. To add insult, there’s a half-full fountain or something just behind them so when darkness falls there are hordes of mosquitoes flying in your face while you try to check your email.

Hence why this blog update finally appears when it appears and not on the evening of the day in question. Sorry about that.

This was a great day with a ton of good snaps, and a video. So here’s a gallery, and the embedded YouTube video:

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