Until as recently as 2006, conflict, landmines and dreadful roads kept all but truly determined travellers away, but reaching Battambang, the second largest city in the country, nowadays is simple. I decided to take the boat from Siem Reap, crossing first the Tonlé Sap and then along the idyllic Sangker River. Departure was at 7 am in the morning and it should take between 6 and 8 hours to arrive. I was on a special slow boat and it took more than 8 hours. En route we passed through floating villages and a bird sanctuary. We all were crammed between legs and bodies, so I was glad to arrive.
Christmas decoration and palm trees
In Battambang I stayed in the Delux Villa, a new resort with pool and tropical garden. Christmas decoration was still placed all around. Santa Claus crossed on a rope the pool – how funny – and the staff asked me when it would be the best time to get rid of it. I recommended just to leave it there for a couple of more days!
The city itself is a mix of Khmer, Chinese, Thai and colonial French architecture. The city was under Thai occupation from 1795 to 1907, and traces of that time can still be found. The Chinese has also played a strong role in the city’s development and left their own marks. About 800 historic buildings show the past of the city.
Art opening at a modernist gallery
During my strolls around I met the renowned artist couple Mao Soviet and his wife Phin Sophorn. They invited me in their gallery Make Meak in the old part of town. Soviet’s special interest are installations and Sophorn realizes women art. Beautiful paintings of women, all with hidden messages on female issues in Cambodia. In their gallery you find their work as well as of other artists including Khchao Touch, hailed as one of the top ten artists in Cambodia, the only woman on the list.
They invited me for an opening at modernist gallery Sammaki in the evening. There I met all the arty croud of Battambang, including many foreigners, as well as the 2 artists, who showed their work: Sokhom Roeun and Bo Rithy. More of their work, their intention and life you can see soon at my new art blog sl4artglobal.
Nevertheless, the surroundings of Battambang are worth to mention.
Riding the bamboo train
I rode the bamboo train, which is a sort of local train built from wood an powered by an electric moto. They can be used for short hops up and down the lines between Battambang and Pursat. Just a fun experience, I listened that they will soon be banned from the line.
TukTuk-driver Sophea drove me to the countryside. After experiencing the bamboo train I climbed up the many steps to Wat Banan. The temple looks like a smaller version of Angkor Wat and was built in the 11th century. I met a monk there who told me about the bad old days when the government had to defend the hill from the Khmer Rouge.
The dark chapter
I got very impressed by the next temple, called Wat Phnom Sampeau. Not only because its magnificent location with wide views to the surrounding countryside but because its dark past. Instead of doing the long and hot climb I got a motorbike driver who brought me up to the hilltop temple. The TukTuk was too weak to do the ride! The cruel past of this hill is a killing field located in a couple o caves. I went a small staircase down to a Buddha statue and beside it were the skulls and bones of the victims of the Khmer Rouge. I looked up and saw the skylight hole where victims were killed before being thrown into the cave beneath (where I was standing right now!). Nothing more to say, just remembering the cruel past only a couple of years ago.
Fried insects for Angelina Jolie
Back to town. In the evening I planned my dinner at The Riverside Balcony, set in a gorgeous old wooden house right above the southern section of the riverfront. It has a wonderful atmosphere by night. Famous customers have included Angelina Jolie and her crew during the settings of the movie “Tomb Raider” about 8 years ago. “I prepared special burgers for her, but the only things she ate were insects … Fried insects, which she brought from outside”, mentioned John, the owner of the bar. Instead of insects I had a great dinner there and a nice talk with John.
Foto-Collage Titel: Nicola Mesken (www.nicola-mesken.com)
Alle anderen Fotos: sl4lifestyle