We had arranged a tuk tuk driver to take us around to the various sights i wanted to see which were outside of the city. Our driver called himself "Dollar" and proved to be a terrific guide for the day. He was handsome, spoke excellent english and was quite willing ti talk to us about his life now and previously when he was a monk, as well as his mother surviving the Khmer Rouge and his dream of moving to New York. He also gave us a lot of information about the sights.
Our first stop was the bamboo train. Cambodia has no trains; they were all decommissioned some time ago, but there is in Battambang, in one of the rural villages on the outskirts, one remaining train...of sorts. The bamboo train consists of a low platform of bamboo slats through which the ground is clearly visible. The platform sits atop two axles each with two metal wheels/cylinders. The contraption is powered by a small motor which seems to be operated with a wooden stick. There are no brakes.
Apparently the thing can reach speeds of up to 40k per hour but we did not seem to travel that fast. We sat in the platform and were zipped though the countryside, leaves slapping our arms much of the way, past rice fields and over rickety bridges which cross muddy streams. The tracks are mostly even and mostly straight, but the ride is bumpy at times. It was great, like a really primitive amusement park ride. At the end of the line (after about 20 mins) we arrived at a "station" consisting of a few shacks selling water and bananas and some tshirts and scarves. There were a few children around who were keen to show us the brick making factory nearby, which was really two giant kilns that looked like beehives, in which they made bricks by burning the left over husks from the rice harvest.
On the way back we passed numerous other trains coming in the opposite direction. There is only one track, so when another train comes in the opposite direction, the drivers decide somehow who should get off. One of the trains is quickly dismantled to allow the other to pass and then first train is put back on the tracks and everyone carries on their way. They whole thing was really fun and cost $5 for the ride.
We reboarded our tuk tuk and set off to our next stop. The dirt roads were incredibly uneven. It had rained the night before and heavily that morning and there were deep holes and furrows in the narrow road, which made the travel interesting and slightly frightening when we had to pass by another vehicle and drive perilously close to the edge of the drop off into the rice paddy. The bumpiness was just fun.
We next went to a small mountain and drove half way up in a jeep (your options are walking, motorbike, or jeep) to a temple, some golden shrines with buddhas, various monks, and some caves. The caves had been used by the Khmer Rouge to throw people to their deaths, but now a steep staircase has been installed and there is a shrine at the bottom with a large, golden buddha and glass boxes in which the bones of the dead are collected. The cave was somber and beautiful, but what made the visit less fun were the stinging red ants that covered the stairs and the handrail on the way down. I was mostly exempted from their wrath, but Betty Lou had them on her ankles, up her pant legs to the thigh and on the back of the neck. To her credit, she handled it well - far better that i would have.
After that the jeep took us to the top of the mountain to the temple Phnom Sampeau which was beautiful, but even more stunning were the views over the verdant landscape. While we were up there we saw one large, loner monkey walk out of the trees and right into someone's house.
Back at the base of the mountain at Dollar's suggestion we ate lunch at an outdoor restaurant in what was basically the yard of someone's modest home. Betty Lou had fried ginger with chicken, i had morning glory with rice, our driver had soup and rice and with water the whole bill was $7. And the food was delicious.
The next leg of our journey involved another stretch of insanely bumpy dirt road in the tuk tuk. The holes and furrows were even worse, but it was exciting and it afforded us some a wonderful look at rural life.
We stopped at a grouping of trees which were filled with hundreds and hundreds of giant fruit bats. They were mostly hanging upside down in the trees, but were very much awake, screeching and flapping their wings. Every few seconds a few would fly around, stretching their enormous wings (these are some of the biggest bats in the world). It was incredible.
Next up was a stop at a tiny winery - a new thing in Cambodia (they do grow grapes here). We sampled the wine (not great, but drinkable), a brandy (not bad and very strong), grape juice (nice), and a honey ginger juice (delicious).
Finally we stopped at a local fishing village to see locals fishing from boats, using large nets.
The day was wonderful. We saw so much pristine countryside and authentic rural life. The weather was excellent and our host delightful. He charged $20 for the day and i for once did not haggle. (I'm pretty sure Betty Lou slipped him a 50% tip.)
The evening finished up with dinner at small corner restaurant where we watched a cat stalking a rat. More wildlife, up close.
It is now the next morning and we are waiting for the bus to Bangkok. They say it will take 6 hours. I have my doubts.