After we finished the Habitat Build, we had time to explore Cambodia. One of the things I had heard about was the famous “bamboo train.” About 15 miles outside of Battambang there was the “Banon Bamboo Train.” It is fairly new, but modeled after the traditional bamboo trains. It is definitely a fun excursion.
After the bamboo train, we drove to the famous Bat Caves of Phnom Sampov. The cave contains over a million Asian Wrinkle-lipped bats. Each night, crowds gather to watch the bats fly out of the caves. We waited in anticipation as the sun descended and night began to fall. First, there was a glimpse of movement, then bats started pouring out of the cave. It went on for about a half-hour — bats flying out to fly thirty miles or more in search of food before returning back to the cave.
The next morning we explored Battambang, starting with the market.
Leaving the market, we stopped to to see one of Battambang’s most photographed “attractions” – the statue of Ta Dumbong, and his magic stick or club for which Battambang is named. We heard the story of Ta Dumbong and his ‘magic stick’ which allowed him to kill the king and become king himself. Eventually, he threw the magic stick at a boy who was avenging his mother’s death, missing the boy, and losing the stick. (The king had killed his mother, after ordering all the women who were pregnant to be killed for fear that a child born that year would take his throne.) The boy became king. Battambang means “Lost the holy club.”
Afterwards, we visited a place where edible rice paper was made. It is used for spring rolls. The this liquid, glutinous rice mixture is poured out thinly and cooked like a crepe, then rolled out to dry in the sun. I even got a chance to roll one onto the drying grill. Afterwards, we watched spring rolls being prepared — some were fried — but they were all delicious.
After seeing rice paper being made, we visited a family that makes rice wine. The rice is fermented with yeast and then distilled. The finished product was a large jar containing the rice wine and a grilled cobra, for extra flavor.
Leaving there, we traveled to visit a family who dried bananas. They made both dried banana chips as well as something like a “banana fruit roll-up.”
What followed was one of the most poignant moments of the day, and perhaps one of the most memorable of the trip. We had asked about the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot, but got the impression that this episode in Cambodian history was either too painful to talk about, or just something they wanted to leave in the past. But we were told that we could ask the seventy-eight year old ‘grandma’ here about that time. We sat as the older lady, Deng Thong, told us through a translator about living through that time – being separated from her children and sent to work in a factory. There, her husband lost four fingers, but had to keep working to avoid being killed. At one point, she said, “merci” and I realized she spoke French. She and I then started speaking in French to one another. It was magical to be able to communicate directly.
I really enjoyed Battambang, and hope to get back there some day. I was grateful to have some time after the Habitat build to see how people worked and lived.
Leaving the banana stand, we boarded our van for the four hour return trip to Siem Reap.