Siam Reap to Phnom Penh via Battambang 17-19 September 2008

 Amazingly we have been on the road coming up for one year …which means we have had an expensive month renewing insurances …as well as the ongoing saga of the car registration- now thankfully resolved.  We also have had to renew our subscription to our website provider Mr Site and so we are delighted they have agreed to come on board as a sponsor. We have been really pleased with the product and service and so are thrilled  to be promoting them on our travels around the world.    Some new stickers to get organized for our car’s side panels!! You can view Mr Site’s product on our sponsor’s page if you need to build your own site. Trust us its simple!

As predicted the drive North West out of Siam Reap was fairly hairy. We had decided to take a diversion to see an additional temple Banteay Chhmar, in the Banteay Meanchey province. The journey of 105 km took 5.5 hours incorporating a brief stop for lunch at Sisophan. The road’s improvement scheme hasn’t reached  this area yet and the roads are all unsealed and in the heavy rain very muddy and slippery.  As ever in Asia it is amazing what fits on a truck or moto and we saw some crazy  loads –including a lot of bundled up live pigs on what might well be their last journey!  

We went past a little village- Kralanh - that specialized in sandstone carving –the majority of carvings were Buddhist related including reclining Buddhas 15 feet long. The 5 or 6 families in the little town were all carving experts and  the fruits of their labours were on display down the main street.

Having dodged the wet season elsewhere we seem to have hit it with a vengeance here in Cambodia,  but,  as in Darwin you can work around it as it is on and off and often rains only at night. We found a little home stay out near the temple and camped there for the night. The area is pretty poor people mainly eking out a subsistence living from farming, and they are universally friendly and welcoming.  

The temple was apparently up there with Angkor in its day, but has long since been pillaged beyond belief by everyone and anyone-latterly the Thais who blatantly trucked out a load of stuff in 1998. Until 1999 it was not possible to visit this area as a tourist as it  was a real Khmer Rouge stronghold but now it is safe to travel here  and its potential for tourism is being seen. 

We saw a large team of anthropologists  working to restore the northern walls of the temple. Once surrounded by a huge 9km wall Banteay Chhmar (or Narrow Fortress) was renowned for its intricate carving, and you can still see evidence of this today and imagine how magnificent it once was. The many carved Gods looked both Buddhist and Hindu as,  the same as  Angkor affiliation  changed according to the whim of the current  King.

Once we got back to Sisophan we took the car for a wash and polish ..mainly as we were carrying an extra few kilos in mud! From this point on the roads Improvement project has kicked in and thankfully for the 60km 1 hour journey onto the riverside town of Battambang we were on gloriously smooth roads!!

 Battambang was a nice little town. It has examples of some fine old French period architecture which managed not to be destroyed by the war. The area has had a harsh time though as simply for the reason it wasn’t too decimated by the early 1970s it was viewed as suspicious by the Pol Pot Loyalists and a succession of brutal purges were carried out. We only stayed one night but it was a pleasant  town with a bustling market and a few nice restaurants.

The final stretch of our journey from Battambang to our next destination the capital Phnom Penh was 268km but of good sealed roads which make all the difference!

On the way we stopped briefly at Kompong Luong another floating village on the Tonle Sap lake. Similar to the one we visited before everything (schools, shops house and the ubiquitous karaoke) is floating. This town has a strong Vietnamese presence who (like everyone else come to think of it!!) suffered badly during the Khmer Rouge years.

We passed through a little town with an imposing centre piece statue Kompong Chhnang. This town is renowned for its pottery and we saw it everywhere along the road to Phnom Penh (PP) and  as ever on oxen carts which were stacked to bursting point!

As we hit PP we stopped for fuel. We were immediately surrounded by children begging. It is hard to know what to do for the best as a) you can’t give to all the children and b) if you do it is often  taken off them by their minders anyway. We had bought a load of pens and some cheap whistles which the children were absolutely thrilled with. It is sad to see how poor they are but amazingly after having the whistles/crayons  to play with they forgot about begging and started drawing us pictures. One little girl arrived late and missed out but one of the other kids gave her his whistle so she wasn’t upset. They are such lovely children and so grateful for anything as they have so little it makes you aware of how grabby we are in the West.

So as dusk fell on Friday 19 September we arrived in PP. Luckily we managed to find a cheap guesthouse ($6 USD- everything is in $USD here though the local currency is accepted even the ATMs give out US currency!) with secure parking. After 6 hours of high concentration driving both driver and navigator were very tired so after a quick meal we went straight to bed.