Day 95: Khmer You Unfortunate Soul

We woke up this morning around 9am, took it in turns to have quick showers, then moved our bags to The Royal Hotel around the corner. There was a slight complication with the room we agreed on the day before (the complication being they sold the room to someone else). The owners were adamant they’d sell us a bigger room with three beds, after a slight debate they gave in and sold us the bigger room for a reduced price ($16, instead of $18). Everyone was a winner. We dropped off our bags and crossed the street to get breakfast, like usual, the order got messed up and instead of a chicken roll, Sarah and I ended up with a spicy chicken roll. Not something you’d really want for breakfast. During breakfast a boy come around begging on his knees at each table. Most were sensible enough not to give him anything. Hoping he’d leave quicker if she gave him something, Sarah handed over some money. It didn’t work. As he tried prying money from Jamie and I. The boy then had the nerve to ask us for a drink, Sarah offered him an unopened bottle of water, to which the boy shook his head and pointed at my Fanta. I snapped at that point and said “No, you’ve got some money now, go buy one!” Like the saying goes, “beggars can’t be choosers!” A little while later another beggar showed up on a hand powered push bike, he waited until someone made eye contact with him, then begged from a distance. Soon after, we paid the bill and went to visit our tuktuk driver for our day trip to various tourist sites.

As promised he was waiting for us at 11am. Our first stop was to the Crocodile Farm. It was very strange when we first arrived as it felt like we were visiting someone’s back yard. As we made our way up the path we passed several large ducks and cockerels. At the end of the path were two large pits, each one laid home to 300 adult crocs. The lady told us only the baby crocs were sold, and normally went to china to be used for medicine. Whereas the six months old crocodiles were sold for meat, and the six year olds were sold for their skin. With the odd exception of a large order, which they recently made of 1,200 thirty year old crocs, which they sold for $1000 each. Quite what their purpose was for we don’t know. Before leaving, the lady allowed us to hold a baby crocodile, it was only 1 month old and was so small that it resembled a lizard more than a crocodile. When we were done taking photos I was told to drop it back into the water nose first. I felt really bad when the croc managed to flatten itself out in the air and ended up performing a bellyflop. We were then told we should wash our hands, before hopping back on the tuktuk to visit our next stop, the bamboo train.

On the way our driver stopped outside an abandoned Pepsi factory. We didn’t really know why, nevertheless we had a look through the dusty windows. Inside we saw stacks of old bottles varying from Pepsi to Miranda. Sarah seemed to think they’d be worth something to a vintage collector. We only stuck around for a few minutes before setting off again. We had to go off road to reach the bamboo train. It was very bumpy and dusty, but eventually we arrived. It cost $5 dollars to ride the train. Train being a very loose term to describe the vehicle we’d be riding. If you can picture one of those pump carts that featured in many cartoons from your childhoods, whenever a train track was involved, then you’ll know what I am talking about. The platform we sat on was around 5 x 6 foot, had a motor at the back (operated by the driver) and sat on two sets of metal wheels. The track went on for quite some way, and because we were so low down it felt like we were going a lot faster than we probably were.

We stopped when we met another train outside a little shop (where we were hounded to buy things e.g T-shirts, vests). To allow them passage, both drivers lifted our train from it’s wheels and moved it to one side. We decided, instead of buying clothes, we’d each buy a drink. We remained there for half an hour or so, being amazed by there artistic skills using coconut leaves. They managed to make grasshoppers, bracelets, rings and pendants from them, to which Sarah’s mind was officially blown. Before leaving, Jamie and I used the nearby toilet, but felt bad as we had to walk into a local families house to use it. We then had the dilemma of wether or not we should buy a drink from that family to say thanks. Jamie bought some water and we returned to the train.

Just when we were about to leave, the lady who sold us our drinks told us the drivers of the trains only earn a dollar and a half each day, and that we should tip them at the end…. Great, more hand outs!! We bumped into two more trains on the way, and when we reached the station we were confronted by all the other employees, all chanting the word “tip”. I wanted to tell them where they could stuff their tips. Or give them a more productive tip like “if this job doesn’t pay you enough, that you feel compelled to ask for tips, which let’s face it is practically begging, go find a better job!!!!” Being British, we cursed under our breaths and handed over some small notes, then returned to the tuktuk where we discussed what just happened. Next stop, the Khmer killing caves.

When we arrived at the foot of the mountain we had the option of riding on the back of motorbikes, or climbing the thousand odd steps to the top. We chose the stairway option and paid only $3 for the privilege. It was hard going, at some points we were practically mountain climbing where the steps were so steep. At the top there were several other things to see, such as pagodas, wild monkeys, and a gun used by the government to defeat the Khmer Rouge, but our main aim was to see the killing caves. However, we did have a laugh at the top when a stall owner asked if he could take our picture with a Cambodian couple. He later showed us the end result which would probably go on his display board.

The cave was a place where (during Pol Pott’s reign of terror) the Khmer Rouge brought the intelligent people and pushed them down the steep drop to the sharp rocks below. We located where the caves were and had to follow a group of Australian teenagers (who were clearly there on a school trip). There were collections of bludgeoned skulls from the unlucky victims who faced such an unfortunate demise. We took some pictures of the place with horrendous memories, before returning to our tuktuk driver at the bottom. There were a couple more beggars dotted around during our descent, by that point we had nothing left to give, and had no choice but to walk on by.

We had one thing left to see before we were able to leave and that was the bat cave. This was at the same location as the Killing Caves and the reason it was a tourist attraction was because each evening, around 6 pm, millions of bats took flight from the cave’s entrance. Unfortunately, the time was only 4pm and we would have to wait the remaining 2 hours there because there was nothing else for us to see.

Jamie was the only one of us to eat at a nearby stall. We waited it out there, until moving over to the entrance of the cave at 5:45pm. We could hear the sounds from the bats increasing in volume as the clock moved closer to six. Just like clockwork the bats burst from the mouth of the cave, like a squeaking projectile vomit. There were numerous amounts of figures thrown about, some said there would be a million bats flying out, others said it would be closer to 3 million. Also the duration of the act was subject to change, some said it lasted around half an hour, others said an hour. All I know was the sight was spectacular. Endless amounts flew out that even The Count from Sesame Street would struggle to keep up. Locals were beeping horns and blowing whistles to disrupt the flight pattern of the winged wonders. As we moved closer to the cave to capture some great photos the odour of the bats was very strong, resembling that of someone with strong body odour. This was because all day they hung upside down, and because of a thing called gravity, they end up wearing their bathroom breaks. The reason for them leaving at 6pm, during dusk, is because that’s when they come out to feast on the evil Mosquitos and other insects. After some great shots on both camera and video, we set off in our tuktuk.

On the way back our driver stopped for us so we could take pics of the brown clouds in the distance, only it wasn’t clouds, it was the swarms of bats. There were so many of them flying together that they created brown waves in the setting skies. 15km later we were back at our hotel. More tips, we gave the driver the $15 he was due, then on top of that we gave him an additional dollar or two.

Before setting out for food we asked the receptionist if he’d mind booking us a bus to Bangkok the next day. Nobody answered at the bus station and we were told that we’d have to come back in the morning (around 7am) to see if we could get a seat on the 7:45am bus. Fingers crossed that we would as we had seen everything Battambang had to offer. We then tried the third restaurant recommended by the Lonely Planet. A place called The Gecko. They were mighty proud of their food, charging between $5-7 for most meals. When we received our food we weren’t that impressed. At the end my meal alone came to $10.50 which was the most I had spent on food since leaving England.

As well as the bill, there were two separate compartments, one for chefs tips and the other for waitress tips. Seeing as I was brought a different burrito to the one I ordered, the most expensive one on the menu (no wonder it looked so different to Jamie’s burrito) I moved Sarah’s tip from the waitress section to the chefs. I considered it justice, seeing as I pointed to my meal on the menu when I told the waitress what I wanted and yet she still got it wrong…. Let it go Ben, just let it go, “but it keeps happening, every time I order food, they nod like they understand me but bring me something else entirely!”

We then went exploring for the free Canadia cash machine (I’ve never understood why they say free cash, as it still depletes from your bank account :P). It was only down the road from our hotel, after getting enough money to cover us until we left the country we returned to our room. It was another case of getting sorted for a possible early start to catch a bus, then getting into bed to turn out the lights. All except for me, who instead stayed up late to type this out for all my 7 followers… “Ah darn, look at the time, 00:16, don’t do the math Ben, argh, too late, if I go to sleep now I will only get 6 hours and 13 minutes sleep. Not taking into account the 5-10 minutes it will take to initially nod off. Oh well, good night Ben”.

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