Published on February 14th, 2011 | by Simon

Rural Cambodia

Battambang, though the second city of Cambodia, is like a French provincial town with Asian overtones. The neighbourhoods are still rural with houses in the very traditional style.

The temples are almost unvisited – possibly with reason given that the little red sign on the left of the very long staircase to this one says “Beware Landmines”.

Charming, but with a dark history as it is from this region that the Khmer Rouge launched their killing spree. Making something of a virtue of necessity, the sites of those massacres have now become known as ‘the killing pagoda’ or ‘the killing caves’. I visited the latter and saw the remains of just a few of the victims, set out for display in a sort of shrine. I suppose it isn’t very different from the grave of John the Baptist in the Grand Mosque in Damascus, but somehow the vibe is totally dark. I couldn’t wait to get out of the place – and I’m sure the chilling feeling wasn’t only because the caves are about a hundred feet below ground level.

My tuk-tuk driver is a charming ex-teacher who is trying to scrape together enough for Chemo for his 4 year old daughter – which really doesn’t seem fair. His own grandparents died in the killing fields. Just to give you an idea, his teaching pension of $40 a month plus his wifes wages as a gas station attendant of $65 a month pay for all the living expenses for the two of them plus their two children. Really does make you think a bit…

The power of the Lonely Planet guides is such that this bizarre use of the defunct railway system – namely to transport produce on bamboo rafts, powered by a generator engine, and set on axles on the disused railways, is now simply a tourist attraction. I guess it’s nice to still see it, but I moved on rather than join the line of westerners determined to have the experience of riding the rails – even if it is no longer real.


Cambodian food is a rather rustic version of Thai, and I must say that I prefer the latter, so after my bus transfer to Bangkok (held up quite badly by a parade of Red Shirts in the city), I hugely enjoyed the very spicy Thai basil food in the evening.

Today was consumed with the process of washing my money and getting to Myanmar where by all accounts, any damaged, dirty, or marked bills will be rejected – and as there are no ATM’s and no credit card facilities, rejected cash could be a little inconvenient to say the least. FYI, ironing US$ bills is reasonably effective. Spray starch is not! And nothing removes marks or grime. So I arrived at the airport in Bangkok with some trepidation over my liquid assets. Pleas to the exchange counters to swap dirty bills for clean fell on deaf ears, so I went to counter1 and changed all the ‘dirty money’ into Thai Baht, and then walked to the other end of the concourse to counter2 and changed them all back into brand spanking new crispy US money.

Please see more images of Cambodia here.




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