Eating my first rat, its was actually delicious!  Tasted like perfectly roasted chicken.

Playing with Bats and Eating Rats in Battambang, Cambodia

Battambang, Cambodia

April 18, 2015 – April 20, 2015

Full Battambang Photo Gallery Here.

After tackling the New Years crowds and the heat to see the ruins of Angkor Wat, we left Siem Reap behind and headed further west to our next destination in Cambodia, Battambang.  The city of Battambang at first glance appears to be a scruffy city, dirty, crowded, and woefully uninteresting, but we soon discovered beneath the surface, many hidden jewels.  We would get to experience more village life, take another great cooking class, see a million bats and ride some old train rails at breakneck speeds while sitting a piece of bamboo, and I got Krista and Bre to eat a rat!

Battambang

Battambang is about four hours from Siem Reap by bus.  The bus stops in a fairly desolate part of town, devoid of anything interesting alongside a road which looks nothing like a bus stop except for a half dozen tuk-tuk’s vying for your business.  We found a pleasant tuk-tuk driver to take us into town, where the impression of the city picks up a bit.  The downtown portion of the city is cut in half by a river with a greenbelt and walking trails built along either side, giving it a much more inviting appearance.

After reaching our hotel and reviewing the business card our tuk tuk driver gave us, we realized our tuk-tuk driver is actually the same person who is teaching our cooking class the next day.  While not teaching a class he doubles as a tuk-tuk driver for some extra income.  We gave him a call and arranged for him to pick us up later that afternoon to see a spectacle the city is well known for, the bat caves.  In the meantime, we were hungry and had a meal at the hotel restaurant.

Krista and Bre enjoying some cold drinks at our hotel.
Krista and Bre enjoying the delicious local fruit beverage “tekelok” at our hotel.

Battambang Bat Caves

About 45 minutes out of town in a clump of otherwise un-noteworthy hills, you can find several caves which are home to around 3 million bats, and each and every evening like clockwork right before sunset, the bats fly out of their caves in a long string of bats.  We pulled up just before it started at a cave that was less well known and climbed a hill a short distance to the entrance, just as the first bats were beginning to fly out. First a few, then a dozen, then hundreds and thousands of bats fly out in a long continuous stream.  It takes about and hour and a half to two hours for the caves to empty out.  They also fly continuously and unerringly straight out of the cave in a long uninterrupted line, meaning you can stand right next to it.  On one side of you will be no bats at all, and just a few feet the other direction a constant stream of tens of thousands of them.  They seemed not to notice anyone as they come flying out and not a single one swerved in our direction or bothered us.  We snapped a few pictures and I tried to take a few videos, while our tuk-tuk driver went and captured one in his hands and brought it over to show us up close.

The entrance to the Battambang bat caves, its covered in thousands of bats crawling there way out of every side, and every hole.
The entrance to the Battambang bat caves, it is covered in thousands of bats crawling their way out of every side, and every hole.

 

Bats flying off into the early night.
Bats flying off into the early night.  You can see some dark “bat clouds” in the distance.
This less frequented bat cave had the bonus of an awesome view of the surrounding countryside.  Besides us, there was only one other group of four students and their driver/guide.
This less frequented bat cave had the bonus of a beautiful view of the surrounding countryside.  Besides us, there was only one other small group with their driver/guide.  This is the only place in Cambodia that we saw hills.
We met some other travelers at the cave entrance.
We met some other travelers at the cave entrance.
We had plenty of time for pictures, it takes about an hour and half for 3 million bats to exit the caves.
We had plenty of time for pictures, it takes at least an hour and half for 3 million bats to exit the caves.
Our driver/cooking instructor Sambath, picked up one of the bats to show us.  No he didn't eat it.
Our driver/cooking instructor Sambath picked up one of the bats to show us. No he didn’t eat it.
Afterwards we enjoyed a great sunset.
Afterwards we enjoyed a great sunset.

On the way to and from the bat caves, we noticed lots of people standing along the side of the road, or riding in cars, car trunks or on motorbikes with water balloons in their hands.  It turns out that pegging drivers, and passengers in tuk tuks with water balloons is a tradition around New Years.  We watched many motorcycle drivers get hit with water balloons and even got hit by a few ourselves. Bre almost got hit in the head but it nailed our driver, Sambath, instead. Krista got one on the leg and lastly my luck dodging balloons ran out and I took one square in the chest. Luckily it was hot outside and we didn’t mind getting wet.  Everyone either throwing the balloons or getting hit does so with a big smile, it seems none of it is done in anger or spite and everyone we saw had a good humor about it.

Pulling over on the side of the road at the local gas station on the way home, a woman on the side of the road selling gas in old water and beer bottles.
Pulling over on the side of the road at the local gas station on the way home, a woman on the side of the road selling gas in old water and beer bottles.
The reason much of the air is so smoggy is because this is the time of the year when farmers are burning their fields.
The reason much of the air is so smoggy is because this is the time of the year when farmers are burning their fields.

Cooking Class

We have both enjoyed taking the cooking classes we have found along the way on this trip, so we signed up for a Cambodian cooking class before we arrived.  We took the class offered by the Sambath Home Cooking School (Sambath coincidently was the tuk-tuk driver who picked us up from the bus).  Sambath and his wife teach the class, she does most of the cooking, and since her English is not good Sambath translates and answers questions.  This was our fifth cooking class on our trip, and was a good one, it had a good mixture of hands on and watching the expert (Sambath’s wife) and like the others after the class is over you get to eat everything, and in case you weren’t paying close enough attention, there is a cookbook to take home with all the recipes mentioned in the class.

Our cooking class started with a stop at a local market to pick up fresh produce.
Our cooking class started with a stop at a local market to pick up fresh produce.

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Bre trying her hand at...
Bre trying her hand at slicing taro root.
Squeezing coconut milk from coconut shavings wrapped in cheese cloth and dipped in water.
Squeezing coconut milk from coconut shavings wrapped in cheese cloth and dipped in water.
Making containers from banana leaves for the dish - Fish Amok.
Making containers from banana leaves and toothpicks for the dish Fish Amok.
Completed Fish Amok, ready to be steamed.
Completed Fish Amok, ready to be steamed.
Chicken curry.
Chicken curry.
After cooking everything came the best part, eating it!
After cooking everything came the best part, eating it!

Bamboo Train

Riding a Cambodian bamboo train.
Riding a Cambodian bamboo train.  A simple bamboo platform (back left) sitting on two train axles and a small lawnmower engine (back right)

A short distance out of the town you will find a small unassuming complex next to a very old rail line.  Here you can ride the rails, not on a proper train but a bamboo platform which is dropped down on top of two loose train axles,  a small lawnmower sized engine sits on top of the bamboo platform and a rubber belt loops around the rail axle and around the engine’s axle.  The whole train can be dismantled and put back together again in about a minute.  Which is good because there is no where to “turn off” or get out of the way if another bamboo train is coming your way.  When they meet both trains stop and one party will dismount and dismantle their train in about 30 seconds and reassemble it on the other side.   Typically the train with more people gets to stay on the rails and go by, but in the case of a tie (equal number of passengers) the ancient tradition of rock-paper-scissors will often decide.  The rails have not been particularly well maintained, so they appear to wobble up and down and side to side as you ride along at ever increasing speeds.  The bamboo train will sometimes ride up on one side, drop down suddenly and lurch and jump at the gaps between rails, making the ride a bit bumpy and unnerving at times, especially as the speed just seems to increase more and more. It was great fun, though perhaps not for the faint of heart.  We had a great time taking pictures along the rails, though they don’t properly show the speed we were traveling, our ‘engineer’ even photo bombed us in one picture.

Our unobstructed view at the beginning of our trip.
Our unobstructed view at the beginning of our trip.
We passed by some great scenery!
We passed by some great scenery!
Dismantling the bamboo train after encountering another going the opposite direction.
Dismantling the bamboo train after encountering another going the opposite direction.  This time we got to stay on the tracks.
Putting the train back together again.
This time we had to yield, putting the train back together again.
Our driver even photo bombed us!
Our train engineer even photo bombed us!
Our bamboo train ended in a small village where we bought some hand made bracelets off some locals.
Our bamboo train ended in a small village where we bought some hand made bracelets off some locals.
The village serving as the turnaround point.
The village serving as the turnaround point.

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Countryside, Temples and Krista and Bre ate a Rat!

On our last full day in Battambang we had our tuk-tuk driver/cooking class instructor, Sambath pick us up for a tour of the countryside.  We explored several temples, stopped by a local house to see how rice paper was made, and we enjoyed some non-traditional cuisine.  Temples old and new are scattered all over the country, it is hard not to bump into one.  Sambath took us to a few of his favorites, the more unique and photogenic ones.

We found some more old temple ruins outside of town.
We found some more old temple ruins outside of town.

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We learned
We learned at this temple complex the Khmer Rouge imprisoned and killed many men and women.
Bre tried some sticky rice, which is cooked inside a piece of bamboo, which is peeled back so you can eat it.
Bre tried some sticky rice, which is cooked inside a piece of bamboo, which is peeled back so you can eat it.

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This memorial...
This memorial is dedicated to the victims of Battambang who were killed by the Khmer Rouge.
Sambath took us a memorail site, dedicated to those around Battambang who were killed by the Khmer Rouge.
The memorial does a good job describing, in English, what the Khmer Rouge did to Cambodian citizens.
Thousands of fish fillets, drying in the sun. It smelled a bit fishy here.
Thousands of fish fillets, drying in the sun. It smelled a bit fishy here.
Similar to cotton, these seed pods are everywhere and used for the same purpose as actual cotton.
Similar to cotton, these seed pods are everywhere and used for some of the same purposes as actual cotton.

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After visiting several temples we stopped at a local’s house to watch rice paper being made, specifically the circular kind used to wrap spring rolls.

Spring roll paper being made.
Rice paper being made.
Countless spring roll wrappings ready to be sold.
Countless rice paper ready to be sold.

Somewhere along the way I spotted someone barbequeing something which smelled amazing alongside the road.  I mentioned it to Sambath, and asked what was being cooked up.  We stopped and walked over to find a grill filled with small pieces of meat cooking over charcoal.  I asked what it was and he said it was rat, and bought one.  He then asked if I wanted to try some.  It smelled delicious which I found intriguing so I agreed, and I can tell you truthfully, barbequed rat tasted amazing!  It tasted like perfectly roasted chicken.  I was so impressed with it, and convincing enough that the girls decided to try it as well, Bre had a bite and Krista too, they both agreed it was good, but didn’t eat any more than a bite.  So we all found rat to be surprisingly good.  Sambath later told us that the rats were often better to eat than chickens, as the chickens eat dirty junk from ditches and gutters around town, while the rats eat fresh clean rice from the fields.

A grill full of delicious rats, they smelled amazing!
A grill full of delicious rats, they smelled amazing!
Eating my first rat, its was actually delicious!  Tasted like perfectly roasted chicken.
Eating my first rat, its was actually delicious! Tasted like perfectly roasted chicken.

Sambath made a great cooking class instructor and tour driver, one of our favorite on this trip.  He shared a bunch of funny stories with us, including one about the drivers in Cambodia.  We asked whether their were any rules as motorcycles seem to drive around with drivers of all ages, with helmets or without and sometimes up to five people squeezing on.  Apparently there is a driving age of 18, which is apparently ignored, and there is a helmet law, though it is only enforced in large cities, if at all.  As to the number of passengers it is in fact illegal to have more than two people on one motorbike, but he told us when a cop tries to pull someone over for having too many passengers they just wave back at him and say “Sorry can’t stop for you, there’s no more room” and drive off.

In case you’re wondering if there are a lot of accidents, there are.  There was one intersection in Battambang we drove through twice, and both times we witnessed two motorcycles hitting each other and ending in a pile of bikes and people (as each bike had multiple people on it). Thankfully, they weren’t traveling very fast and everyone got up and looked to be okay.  Seeing a motorcycle fall over, whether in an accident with another, or just on its own as it went around a corner was almost a daily sight in Cambodia.

The giant Battambang statue in Battambang. Apparently this mythical figure threw his stick - the Battambang, which always returned like a boomerang, but one time the stick did not return.  The city was built on that spot.
The giant Battambang statue. Apparently this mythical figure threw his stick, which always returned like a boomerang, but one time the stick did not return. The city was built on that spot. Battambang roughly translates to “Lost Stick”.

Visiting a Cambodian Household

One of our good friends in Seattle is Cambodian, and has family in Battambang.  While talking via Skype our last morning in Battambang, she suggested we pay her uncle and cousin a visit.  We asked Sambath to work the family visit into our tour for the day, and he even served as translator between us and our friend’s relatives.  It was fun for us to meet her family, see a real Cambodian household, and taste the amazing grapefruit grown in their backyard, which did not look or taste like any grapefruit the three of us had ever eaten.

These frogs were being raised in the backyard.
These frogs were being raised in the backyard.
Posing with our friend's family in Battambang.
Posing with our friend’s family in Battambang.  Thank you for opening your home to us.

Our final evening in Battambang, we hired Sambath one last time to be our driver to and from the local circus.  Created by a non-profit organization, vulnerable children and teens participate in arts schools and other activities.  The circus is a product of the performing arts school.  The admission price of US $14 may be steep by Cambodian standards, but all the money goes towards supporting this good cause, and you will be amazed at how engaging and talented these young performers are.

circus caption
The show lasted over an hour and featured many impressive acrobatic stunts.

After our final goodbye to Sambath, we woke up the next morning and headed back to Phnom Penh via bus.  Originally we had planned to go to the beach in Sihanoukville, Cambodia before flying out of Phnom Penh.  However, traveling from Battambang to Sihanoukville requires going through Phnom Penh, and given our busy schedule in Cambodia we all decided the extra bus journeys weren’t worth the short amount of time we would have spent at the beach.  So instead of the beach, we spent our time in Phnom Penh at the hotel pool, drinking coconuts as well as the occasional beer or cocktail.   On Bre’s final evening we took her to a fancy restaurant, and she ended up with food poisoning later that night.  Needless to say, she was ready to head home after that.  We sadly said goodbye as Bre climbed in her taxi to the airport.  We are so thankful you came to share in our adventures Bre, we had a blast with you in Cambodia!

While Bre was heading home to Seattle, our journey was continuing.  We were headed back to Thailand for the third time.

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