Jules Lund and the crew visited Battambang, Cambodia's second largest city. A provincial town of 80,000 Khmers and divided by the Sangker River, it is much smaller than the capital, Phnom Penh, with over one million residents. It is in the heart of Cambodia's rice bowl, and thanks to fertile alluvial soil, grows enough to supply the entire country. It has a non-touristy, provincial atmosphere and the people are warm and friendly. Local economy is based firmly in rice, wood, food crops, textiles and sapphires. In all directions you will find small villages, rice paddies and farmland.
The crew found a great way to explore the countryside, its villages and temples: by motorbike, with a driver who is also your guide. The countryside is typically comprised of bright green rice paddies, lined with sugar palms and stilted wood houses shaded by coconut palms.
First stop was Wat Norea Peaceful Children's Home, a non-government organisation founded in 1992. The orphanage of about 40 children was set up to support children orphaned in the war, those who have suffered domestic violence or have been trafficked in sex, as well as those orphaned from HIV/AIDS. Since 1998, the monks that run the orphanage have focused on helping people to have a greater understanding of AIDS, helping them live and deal with the disease and basically creating better public awareness of the spread of HIV. The monks take a very hands-on approach. They feed and house the children, take them to school and train them in a vocational skill. They have helped around 400 children to date.
Villages specialise in specific talents. A noodle making village is worth a stop. There are usually plenty of young people helping out and Battambang Noodles pan fried soft rice noodles with chicken, egg, sprouts, green onion, ground chilli and peanuts in tamarind sauce is a delicious dish, and quite inexpensive.
Beware if you stop at a rice wine village. Farmers love to share their home-made liquor and it is very potent!
It's been said that if it can be carved from stone or wood, you will find it in Battambang. Everywhere are carvings of mythological creatures, divinities, animals, created from wood or stone. A visit to a carving village or two is an eye-opener.
There are also villages turning out rice paper and fish sauce and visitors are always welcomed.
The bamboo train is a bit of fun. It is an ad-hoc form of transportation, consisting of a 2.5 by four-metre bamboo cart with a motorcycle engine. It chugs along the rails picking up and dropping off passengers, cargo, animals and motorcycles. If it meets an on-coming train or another bamboo train, it can be disassembled and taken off the rails in a minute or two, allowing the other to pass. It's worth having a ride in one.
From Battambang in Cambodia's north-west
Intrepid Travel has 15-day Hearts of Cambodia tours departing Phnom Penh, including twin-share accommodation, some meals, activities and guide for $1070 per person, plus $US200 local payment.
Flight Centre has return airfares to Phnom Penh. Sale and travel dates and conditions apply. Taxes are included. All prices are "from" prices.
- Perth $957
- Melbourne $1020
- Brisbane $1022
- Sydney $1023
- Adelaide $1031
To book call Flight Centre 131 600. Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.
Ph: 1300 360 887
Ph: 1300 651 960