After a very relaxing and fashionable Christmas in Hanoi (we were on the frow at a fashion show on the 25th too), I was set to fly back to Siem Reap on Boxing Day evening before getting the bus to Battambang on 27th morning.
However when I got to the airport I discovered my flight had been cancelled. Vietnam Airlines were pretty good at sorting it out though and we (me, 2 Brits and 3 Russians) were put on a flight to Ho Chi Minh, stayed there one night – or more like 5 hours – then back to the airport for the early flight to Siem Reap. This was ok except my flight got in at 9.20am and the bus to Battambang was leaving at 10.30am. This left me 40 minutes to get a visa, find my bag, haggle for a tuk tuk and find the bus to be picked up at 10am. Against all odds I made it with 5 minutes to spare!
Battambang is the second city of Cambodia and is a five hour drive west of Siem Reap. The main attraction is the Bamboo train, but I really wanted to come for Cambodia’s only vineyard – a 4 hectare stretch about 10km south of the city.
I had a full day of sightseeing on Saturday with Nicky, an English speaking guide/tuk tuk driver. We kicked off at the Bamboo train or the rollercoaster as Nicky called it, a rickety 3 metre square frame with bamboo slats on top of 4 wheels.
Lonely Planet describes it as ‘one of the world’s all-time classic rail journeys’. Not sure I agree with that but it was certainly unique. We hurtled along the wobbly tracks until meeting people coming the other way. As there is only one track, someone has to get off their ‘carriage’, the whole thing is taken apart, we pass and the carriage is put back together. I thought that the carriage with the least people had to get down but my driver must have been special as everyone else was forced to get out of our way!
After going for about 20 minutes you stop at the other end for a short break then return.
From there we headed south through the countryside to the Prasat Phnom Banon Winery where they produce a Cabernet Sauvignon, a brandy and some fruit juices. The red wine was ok, quite sweet but drinkable – same with the juices but the brandy was way too strong. A quick sniff nearly knocked me sideways!
We drove further into the countryside heading for Phnom Banan, a Angkor Wat-style temple on top of a steep hill. After drinking red wine the 358 stone steps were killer but once at the top there were lovely views across the province and an interesting walk around.
Coming down the steps was also difficult but I was rewarded with lunch at the end. We then continued to Phnom Sampeau where there are the horredous ‘killing caves’, two caves that were used to throw people into during the Khmer Rouge era and a temple that was used as a prison. It is horrible in the caves, with skulls and bones collected into cages.
We walked on uphill to the monastry at the summit of Phnom Sampeau, with Nicky scaring away any macaques that came near my Diet Coke. The views up there were definitely worth the sweat.
We made our way down and walked up the road to wait by the entrance of another cave.
At 5.30pm millions of bats flew out and into the dusk to catch insects and make their way to the river.
It was a spectacular sight – a bit smelly though.
On Sunday I walked around the city and then came back on the afternoon bus to Phnom Penh.
A lovely little weekend break!