Friday, March 24, 2006

Battambang II

I'm staying at the Chhaya Hotel in Battambang, which seems OK to me, nothing flash. The moto driver however was fairly negative about it, saying that it was also into selling drugs & prostitution, but I've not been approached. It's wedding season here in Cambodia, and boy, are they LOUD! In several spots around town, large, colourful tents have been set up, with scores of people eating & generally celebrating the various weddings. Unfortunately one was situated outside the Chhaya yesterday, and proceedings started very early - maybe 7am. So noisy.

I had a relaxed look around town yesterday, visiting 2 Buddhist wats & the museum - rather overpriced at $1 for what was on offer.

A day of superlatives followed, commencing with a massage at the Seeing Hand Massage, again done by blind people, and possibly connected to similar sounding places in Siem Reap & Phnom Penh. I went through the same blue pajamas routine, and was asked by the masseur, a young bloke, if I wanted "medium or strong" - naturally I elected to go for "strong". Sweet mother of Jesus it was strong! At times it felt as if he'd slipped a pair of pliers into his hands, or even a vise. He tugged at extremities, yanked muscles & nerves, dug with steely fingertips .... yikes!! Still, he did manage to locate several trouble spots (as well as probably create a few others). But surely something that painful must be good for you! I avoided tears in the eyes ... until I hit the Smokin' Pot - a local restaurant, diagonally opposite from the White Rose. It has a good reputation, an deven runs cooking classes for interested tourists. I went for the spicy chicken with basil ... the menu said it came "with more or less spice". When I said I wanted it spicy, I think they thought I meant "much more". After the first few mouthfuls, my eyes began to water, lips began to tingle .... I was on fire!!! Is this what they meant by "Smokin'"? Hot, but tasty nevertheless.

The room at Chhaya is windowless - functional but charmless. I suppose I could change rooms, but I can't really be bothered.

I had some breakfast at the Sunrise Coffee House - very western food, which I tend to eat only sparingly when in SE Asia, but pleasant.

I'd thought of doing some cycling today, but instead hired a man & a motorcycle - the first time I've done so, being somewhat of a cycling purist. $8 for 2/3 day seemed reasonable, so off we headed to Phnom Sampeau, then Wat Banan, and then went for a ride on the "bamboo train" or "norry" - this is basically a vehicle comprising 2 sets of wheels, a bamboo platform and an ouboard motor to drive the thing. They use the train tracks to transport people & goods up & down the line, although obviously not when the official train runs (which is maybe only once a week). When two norries travelling in opposite directions meet, the smaller one gives way - it is quickly disassembled then reassembled when the larger one has passed. It was daft, but sorta fun.

Bamboo train or "norry"

The odd thing for me about visiting Phnom Sampeau - the location of the so-called "killing caves" - was how little emotion it managed to elicit from me. In the caves, in wire containers, were scores of skulls & bones of people who'd been pushed to their deaths by the Khmer Rouge. Perhaps I'm just desensitised or a bit knocked off, but I did find it hard to relate to the obvious horror of it all. For me, the S-21 school, with all the photographs of its victims and implements of torture, remains the most disturbing & distressing example of the regime's reign of terror.

The people here now apparently enjoy 'democracy', but everyone you speak to talks with dismay & sense of powerlessness about the widespread corruption in the country - politicians, police, public servants, business people .... Tragic really, but I suppose it's better than it has been.

It was an incredibly dusty trip, but it was nice to see a bit of colour return to my beard, albeit temporarily. It's currently raining - only the second time since I've been here - and it sure is welcome.

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