Battambang is not one of the well-trodden tourist attractions in Cambodia, with many visitors to the country sticking to the big hitting attractions of Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, but having read the guidebook for South East Asia and seen it appear in their Top 20 experiences we decided it would make a nice addition to our route through Cambodia.
On reflection I think that sometimes guidebook writers can get a bit carried away.
One of the main attractions is listed as ‘soaking up the colonial splendour as you walk down the banks of the river’. Maybe having spent time in some of South America’s UNESCO Heritage Cities has spoilt us but the short strip of shabby looking shops in Battambang would barely be noticeable let alone comment-able had we not read the book.
It doesn’t get much better elsewhere. The ‘imposing structure’ looks like a dilapidated 1960s bus station, and the disused train station and buildings lack the charm and beauty of the the Uyuni train graveyard in Bolivia.
That said, walking round did give us a chance to see life in a typical if unremarkable town, and that in its own way was interesting. This included walking past a school of the same style as the one that became S-21 in Phmon Penh, but this time it is bursting with life and the sounds of children.
A lack of a functioning railway system (at least for now, plans are afoot to reopen the route to Phnom Penh) has allowed the inventive locals to create a tourist attraction in the form of the Bamboo Train.
The old slightly warped train track is used to ferry tourists to and from a local village for the fee of $5 on homemade trains consisting of a couple of axels made from old tank wheels, a bamboo bedstead and a small petrol engine. You get to sit on a small cushion (2 if you are female) and feel the wind in your face, the large bumps in the track in your bottom and enjoy the scenery.
The two way route is on a singe piece of track, so if (when), you meet a “train” coming the other way the one with the least passengers has to disassemble the train, let them pass, rebuild and carry on. This occurrence is a fun novelty at first, but after the 10th time we admit that we were getting a little bored by the process, especially as we were always the least populated train.
Our Lonely Planet manages to recover its reputation with a recommendation for our last Battambang tourist attraction. A visit to the Cambodian circus.
Young disadvantaged Cambodian children are trained to perform amazing acrobatic feats and slightly overact in a wonderfully comedic fashion. We get chance to witness the fruits of this labour in a captivating hour long show. The standard is incredibly high, in fact 3 of the group have been accepted into the Montreal circus school (the most prestigious in the world apparently), and the packed audience is on their feet applauding by the end of the performance.
A wonderful way to end a rather mixed bag of a day.