Around Battambang

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Backpacking Cambodia: Day 05 (16-Feb-2019) 

Sra Angkor - Rice Wine!

I had booked a scooter for a day at the hostel. Here, the rates were a bit different that that in Siem Reap - $8 for 12 hours. I stepped out to a neighbouring street where a market was being set. Villagers were gathering with their fresh harvest. At a small road side stall, I had some Milo drink. When I returned, I found Nick smoking outside the hostel. I was glad to see him. He too was planning on renting a scooter that day and explore the neighbourhood. I informed him of the route I was taking and we planned to meet at the first location that I was heading to as he was still to get ready and find a scooter. 

At the outskirts of the city, I stopped for some water. I walked to a shop and requested them to refill my water bottle from the can they had. The couple who owned that shop were a bit confused. They asked me to buy a water bottler of 2 litres instead.  I understood that this was not a common practice in the country. After I explained to them that I would rather prefer the water refilled, they obliged to my request. When I offered money, the man said - Free for you my friend. His wife smilingly approved the act. 

I rode straight to Wat Ek Phnom. The temples are in ruins and I had the place all for myself to capture some great pictures. 

There is a monastery next to the temple where I met a young boy named Seyla who has been painting the walls of the monastery since a year now. I had a short chat with him, during which, we showed each other our respective art work. I was very impressed with the amount of work he was doing. It appeared to me that he has been living there all this time to complete this work. 

At the ticket counter, I enquired about rice wines. Rice wines apparently are very popular in Cambodia. In the tourist map provided by the hostel, I had a location near the temple to witness rice wine making. However, I failed to locate it. So, I next headed to the place that makes rice papers. At a village shop attached to a house, I explained that I would love to have some vegetarian spring rolls. While the girl made that, I observed the process of making rice papers. Rice husks are used to fire a stove that boils water in a vessel. A cloth, tightly wrapped around the lid of that vessel acts as a pan on which rice batter is spread thinly. When cooked, they are carefully transferred to a Stand with short bamboo poles or rolls that can be easily detached from the stand. The bamboo pole, along with the rice paper is carried out to the verandah where the paper is transferred to a net or a mesh that allows them to dry under the sun. These papers are then used to make spring rolls. 

I also bought some fried rice cakes that were extremely delicious.

From here, I rode to the killing fields outside of Battambang. There is a memorial here that stores the skeletons of victims killed during of Khmer rouge period. They stand still inside a glass chamber as a reminder of the atrocities that this nation has experienced under the rule of Khmer rouge. 

On my way, I also tried some Bamboo sticky rice. It is delicious! A mixture of rice, coconut milk and some beans are cooked in cups made of bamboo. You can find these being sold all along the highways that diverge from Siem reap or Battambang. 

I headed back to the city and took a short break at the hostel before continuing my journey to the other side of the city. I badly wanted to try rice wine hence I looked up on the internet for some place where I could find one. People had told me that I could only find rice wine in houses and it is not commonly sold in shops. However, on google maps I found a place that said - Khmer Rice wine maker. I decided to go there. When I reached the location indicated in map, I found myself in a village. I asked at a shop near by but no body had heard of this place. When I was about to head back, two men from one of the houses approached me and asked me if I was looking for rice wine. When I nodded, they invited me over. "This is the place you are looking for." the man who spoke english told me. His name is Manith. 

Manith told me that his father used to make rice wines but has now stopped. He showed me the workshop that still had barrels that used to once contain the wine. He offered me a seat at the veranda; a dinning table arranged at the entrance of almost every house in Cambodia. His brother and his friend greeted me. Behind us, his parents had just finished their lunch and were relaxing under the house that is built on a raised platform. Manith told me that he is having a party and his friends are going to come over soon and I could join them if I wished to. He requested his brother to get some rice wine. His friend who did not speak English was curious to know more about me. Manith acted as an interpreter. Manith also informed me that he used to party a lot before his wedding and would invite his foreigner friends over and drink rice wine all afternoon and night. Now, he is married and has two kids. He lives with his in-laws and visits his parents every weekend. That’s when he meets all his friends and they drink together. He works in a Bank. As he spoke about wedding, we discussed a bit about this difference in culture we have. 

In Cambodia, as I have mentioned earlier, the men quit their homes when they get married. I asked Mantih how he felt when this happened with him. He said that of course, he was extremely sad and that he did not want to leave his house. In India, we would generally associate this sentiment with women. So, how we define our society and culture is subjective and can easily differ from that of the others, thus the tradition and culture that we tend to believe are simply an illusion we have built around us and choose to obey blindly. It can be easily differed or challenged by an other set of people on this planet. 

Slowly, one by one, his friends began to gather. Some of them were his classmates, some neighbours but all of them were part of his football team. They often competed in tournaments. Manith would once in a while tell me what they were discussing. They were planning to have a T-shirt made for the team and they discussed about a friend who has recently been acting weird and distancing himself from them. As we discussed, rice wine was served. Manith got me some vegetarian item to munch on. 

Rice wine is served as pegs and all take it with a cheer, chat for a while and then it is time for another round. Tis particular one, Manith told me was a special one that contained some herbs. I had a few pegs along with them. Manith was a little busy ironing his clothes and cleaning his car. He was attending a wedding next day so, he had to prepare for it. I learnt later how important it is for people in Cambodia to look the best at a wedding. 

After a few pegs, one of his friends got philosophical and made a thoughtful statement. He said that despite we not speaking the same language, and representing a different country or culture, we shared a friendship that remains unaffected; it is beyond countries and cultures. 

We took some selfies and then it was time for me to continue with my journey. I felt good again about this unexpected experience. These are the experiences that stay with us forever and make a travel special. People often interact with you when you are traveling alone.  

On my way, I stopped at a grape farm. They served grape juice and brandy. I tried grape juice and it was delicious. 

After relaxing there for a bit, I continued my journey to Banan temple that is about 20kms away from the town. It is a steep climb up a hill to reach a temple complex. The monuments at the summit are impressive. 

Very close to this hill temple, you can find a Bamboo train that is popular among the tourists. I chose to skip that as it did not interest me. I instead took a shortcut to reach Phnom Sampov temple and caves. On my way, I witnessed an accident. A tuk-tuk found itself in a ditch covered with bushes. From it, four french travellers and the driver tried to free themselves. I helped them pull the vehicle out. It was poorly damaged. A few villagers joined to help us as well. They told me that one of the Frenchmen had been riding the tuk-tuk when a vehicle came from the other side, very close to them and he lost control. They laughed nervously while they explained what had happened. 

At Phnom Sampov, you have to buy a ticket at the base and then proceed up the hill by your vehicles or by walk. Tuk-tuk cannot make its way up. As this place is vast, having your own vehicle is recommended. There are a number of places to see there - A few temples and some interesting caves including the killer cave which has again a skulls from the victims of khmer rouge atrocities. The caves are a highlight. 

After exploring the place for a while, I decided to ride back to town. I had read about the bats from the cave flying out at sunset but I did not really know where it should be viewed from. Coincidently, at the base, near the exit, I met Nick, sitting with a beer at a road side restaurant. We had missed each other at all locations and finally met at the final destination. We were happy to see each other. I decided to sit there with him and chat for a while. There were many tourists sitting there and what I did not know then was that it was the spot to view the flight of bats. Within a few moments they emerged out of the cave with a force. It was a beautiful site and a happy coincidence fo me. The flight continued for more than  20 minutes. The sky was filled with the buzz and the view was simply spectacular. 

Back at the hostel, I freshened up and went to my favourite restaurant Monorom Garden for one last meal. After dinner, I returned back to hostel and met Nick at the lobby. I was planning on trekking in the Cardamom mountains and Nick wanted to join as well. We checked at the reception and they found us a contact - Mr Lim from Osoam Cardamom community centre. Nick and I thought of planning our trek over a drink. Earlier that day, Nick had come across this cool street that had some nice bars and restaurants so, he said we could go there. I agreed. We picked a family run restaurant  "About the world" for its homely ambience and descent crowd. 

From there, I called Mr Lim who told me that he was going on a trek to the mountains and would return in two days. He asked us to come there after the 19th. We did not know what to do until then, as I had nothing in mind for the next two days. We thought we would just wake up the next morning and decide what to do. So, we sat there drinking some Cambodian beer. I ordered a Vegetarian Lok lak as I was still hungry. We chatted with other travellers in the reastuarant and spent some quality time there before heading back to the hostel and retiring fo the day. 

I must tell that, Battambang is my favourite city in Cambodia. If I were to live in Cambodia and work there, I would definitely pick Battambang. The people there seemed very dignified. They are not as money minded as people in other major cities. Moreover, it is not very touristy as well. It has also some great restaurants but most importantly kind people. I found a certain genuineness in the people of Battambang. 

By the time I went to bed, I had made up my mind. I was going to take an early bus directly to Sihanoukville the following day. It was going to be a long journey.

Continued Here