After a few days exploring the capital of Phnom Penh, next up on the food tour was a five-hour mini-bus ride to the quieter city of Krong Battambang (pronounced Bat-tam-bong), in the north-west of Cambodia.
Our guide explained that Battambang means ‘lost stick’. The story goes that many years ago a cheeky monkey was trying to steal from the King so they threw a stick to make him go away and then lost the stick in the river. A huge monument in the city is a tribute to this tale.
Along the way we stopped to get sweets at a bakery and again at a roadside stand to try warm sticky rice with coconut and soy beans, cooked and served inside sticks of bamboo and you peel the hard bamboo to the rice inside. This simple sweet snack was one of my favourite Cambodian eats.
While we didn’t stay long in Battambang, it felt like we did get a good sense of the area by exploring places off the beaten track.
In the heat of the afternoon we took a 20km bicycle ride around the quiet local villages and visited a family making rice paper, another family making thinly sliced dried banana and a hut where rice wine is made. I politely declined the offer to go inside a pungent prahoc factory. The smelly fermented fish is a much-loved staple in Cambodian cuisine.
The next morning we were up early to take a ride on Battambang’s bamboo train which was a very different experience to the expectation that the word ‘train’ conjures up.
Wooden frames fitted with bamboo slats and cushions are positioned atop metal wheels with an axle and outboard motor and a driver motors the ‘train’ along the old rusty tracks. Each train takes a maximum of 4 passengers for a loud, bumpy ride along the two-way track.
If a train comes from the opposite direction, the car with the most passengers stays on board and the other train is quickly dismantled and set on the side of the tracks, allowing the other car to pass. With talk of the train lines being upgraded, it is not known how long the bamboo trains will remain active so it was great to have the experience.
Video: I could certainly do with some better recording equipment and movie editing know-how. Here is a clip of my favourite parts of Battambang. I hope you like it!
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