Battambang – Crocodiles, Killing Caves, and a Bamboo Train

After wrenching ourselves away from the beautiful island of Koh Rong, we spent another night in Sihanoukville and booked a bus to Battambang for the next day.  We just couldn’t do the night bus.  (We’re still scarred from our journey from Nong Khiaw to Don Det in Laos.)

“How long is the bus?” we asked the woman at our guesthouse.

“…maybe you get there at 3 or 4pm.”

Well, the bus was to leave at 7am and we had to backtrack all the way to Phnom Penh before heading west to Battambang.  Who knows how she came up with that answer, but in reality, we arrived in Battambang at about 9pm.

Luckily we had looked up accommodation in advance and found a hostel called Here Be Dragons a little outside of town.  We instructed our tuk tuk driver where to take us from the bus station and we were greeted with a smile and shown our room as soon as we got there.

The hostel did not disappoint.  After we dropped our bags off, we headed back downstairs to the bar to collect our free beers that we were given on arrival.  Even better, they had Kaiserdom in stock (for only $2!) and we nearly died of happiness, as it had been months since we’d had anything but local watery lagers.  The bar was also full of locals and expats happy to chat which was nice.

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We had a late breakfast the next morning, and it was brutally hot that day, so it took us a couple hours to get ourselves motivated to go out and see the sights.  That ended up working out just fine, because wanted to be at our last destination at sunset, anyway.  We got a tuk tuk to take us around all day for $15 and set off.

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Driving across the bridge in Battambang

The first stop was a local crocodile farm.  As soon as we got there, a woman greeted us and asked us for $2 each.  Unfortunately we only had 100 dollar bills on us, because those are what come out of the ATM machines in Cambodia.  We scrambled to find any small bills we had on us and found a total of only $2.50.  To our surprise, she just smiled, took our $2.50 and assured us that it was just fine.

She ushered us to the pits where the adult crocodiles are kept, she said there were about 400 and some of them were huge!  And sadly, they looked pretty cramped in there.  Excited by the prospect of seeing giant reptiles, we had failed to consider the ethics of a visit like this beforehand.

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Driving to the Crocodile Farm
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One of the crocodile pits
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The water is shaded for the crocodiles or they can get out and sunbathe

The woman that greeted us was very friendly and her English was better than anyone else we had encountered in Cambodia.  When we asked what the crocodiles were used for, she told us that the leather is exported for handbags and other things, the meat is sent to Vietnam for eating, and some are sent to the China to be used for medicine…Eek.

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An especially formidable looking croc peeking out

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Feeling depressed about our contribution to this less than ideal situation, we were glad to find out that the woman working there was not the owner, she was just working there to improve her English and save up money to buy a tuk tuk.  She told us she aspired to be the first female tuk tuk driver in Battambang, which is actually pretty cool.  And we were glad to be able to help her out.

As we were walking away from the crocodile pits and back toward the exit, she surprised us with two baby crocodiles that we got to hold!  She told us they were twins, one male and one female.  They were making the cutest noises and she said it was because it was almost their feeding time.

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Babies!

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Our next stop was the Bamboo Train, so we hopped back on the tuk tuk to take us there.  Note:  We had no idea what the bamboo train was, we had just read that it was one of the ‘top things to do’ in Battambang and figured that meant we should probably do it.

So, we drove on to the “entrance” which was basically a couple of stalls selling drinks and snacks.  On the other side we could see tracks with what looked like big pallets on wheels.

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The bamboo train

As we approached, we were asked to pay the entrance fee, then pointed toward one of the pallets.  It turned out that the pallets were made of bamboo and that is what we would be riding up the tracks!

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Don’t worry, it’s five stars!

We sat down on the first one and one of the guys hopped on the back and started the engine.  It started out slow, but soon enough we were racing along through the fields.  Not to mention, the rails were not lined up very well, so there was a huge jolt every few feet and huge bang to go along with it.  It was loud, a little terrifying, but mostly really fun!

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Ready to go
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Racing through the jungle
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A small bridge

Off in the distance, we could see something on the tracks.  As we came closer, we realized it was another bamboo train going in the opposite direction.  Just as we were wondering how this would be handled, our driver slowed the train and motioned for us to get off.  We were in the middle of nowhere, so we had to just kind of stand in the brush once we jumped off.

Then, the driver of the other bamboo train came over and helped our driver disassemble our train.  They took it completely off the tracks and set it aside, let the other train pass, then reassembled it on the tracks!  Then the drivers hopped back on their respective trains and continued on the journey.

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Letting another train pass by
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Reassembling the train

After about a 30 minute ride, we slowed to a stop in what seemed like a random spot with about 6 booths selling drinks and tshirts, in the middle of no where.  We stopped and had a beer (and enjoyed the shade) before getting back on the train and heading back the way we came.  Apparently the bamboo train is used (or at least originally intended) to transport goods.  A bizarre little tourist attraction, but definitely a unique experience!

On our way to the next stop, our tuk tuk driver pulled over to a small cart on the side of the road.  He told us they had a tasty treat there…

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Mmmm…rats.

We almost tried a rat, but it had clearly been baking in the sun all day, so we passed.  Our driver also pointed out the jar of fruit soaking in rice whisky which Joe did try and said it was very tasty!

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Trying some local whisky

We got back on the tuk tuk and drove to Phnom Sampeau, a large hill about 7 miles out of Battambang.  There are large caves in the hill that were used by the Khmer Rouge to deposit bodies of the people they murdered.  The people were bludgeoned to death, then tossed down a hole that lead to the caves.

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Climbing Phnom Sampeau
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Allll the steps!
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A painting depicting the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge

There was a small memorial inside the cave with skulls and bones inside, but it didn’t seem well looked after.  We could also look up and see the hole where the bodies were thrown.  In some ways, the lack of upkeep made it even more depressing than the killing fields we visited in Phnom Penh.

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A small memorial containing human skulls of the victims
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The hole where victims were thrown into the cave.

By this time it was late afternoon, and we walked around Phnom Sampeau to our last stop, the bat cave!

As we got closer, we started hearing a strange sound.  As we rounded the hill, we got a glimpse of the cave and it was clear that that was where the sound was coming from.  At first the cave looked like it had dark rocks inside, but then we realized that they were actually just covered in bats!

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Those aren’t dark rocks!

Just before sunset, the bats started to stir, and then they started flying out of the cave!  It was a slow stream at first, but they kept coming and coming!

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The beginning of the flight
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Bats!

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After watching them for a few minutes, our driver met up with us and told us to get back in the tuk tuk and go to the other side of the hill to see more bats.  Once we got to the other side, we climbed up the hill and got to stand right next to the mouth of the cave.

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There was traditional Khmer music coming from somewhere down in the village and it almost looked like the bats were dancing to the music as they flew into the sunset.  It was pretty amazing!  Though the bats were kind of smelly.

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The smokey looking trail on the left is actually the trail of bats!
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It seemed like they would never stop coming out of the cave!
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A gorgeous sunset over the jungle

We ended the day with dinner and one more round of Kaiserdom back at the hostel.  We had almost skipped Battambang because it was slightly out of the way, but we were really glad that didn’t!