The blog is not finished! But after the Theft (yes, capital letters), the want/need to update the blog took second fiddle to dealing with the Theft and just finishing the trip sans computer. Since being home, it's been hard to get that motivation to complete it. But I will. Ever so slowly. Please be patient!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Bats and Dolphins of it All

Days 368-369 & 376-377, November 30-December 1 & December 8-9, 2011

Two small towns in Cambodia exist a slight ways off the beaten track. For the most part, people tend to ignore these in exchange for the war history in Phnom Penh, the magic in Angkor Wat, or the sun and surf in Soukanitville. And it is understandable why most people would leave these places off their “must see” list after going there myself.

Monk walking in BattambangIMG_7284

Don’t get me wrong, they’re both nice little communities, but they’re also very very quiet, with little to do but one or two sights. While the second, Kratie, has easy access to small Cambodian villages in which to visit, the first, Battambang, is really no more than a small city. Not much of a draw besides the “bamboo railway” and the “killing caves.”

Now, that’s not to say that these places should be avoided altogether. It’s just something to understand that you may not need as much time as say the other big draws in Cambodia. In fact, Val and I only spent two nights and one day in Battambang. Lucy, Janine, and I spent the same amount of time in Kratie. In neither instance did we feel like we were rushing or missing out on anything by leaving so soon after arriving.

First up:


We arrived in this little city, Val and I, from Siem Reap by bus. The ironic thing is that everyone we talked to mentioned that the main reason to go to Battambang was the boat ride from Siem Reap. Whoops.

The only full day we spent there we hired a tuktuk driver for the day to take us out to the Bamboo Railway. It’s really just a single railway track and a makeshift train car made from steel wheels, a bamboo raft that fits on the wheels, and a go-kart motor to send us barrelling down the track. It felt like a rollercoaster actually. Just with no safety equipment. On the off chance that you meet another “raft” coming the opposite direction, the one with the least amount of people or items disassembled to let the other past. We lucked out on both instances and didn’t have to move at all.

Assembling the motorIMG_7305

Disassembling the other “raft”IMG_7313

The ride itself was fun, though a little expensive at $10 for the two of us. Plus we were expected to tip our driver. At the end of the line we were given the opportunity to wander around. As the only things really to see were a brick factory(been there, done that) and some farms, I opted to chill in the shade before we were taken back down the track.


Our tuktuk driver then took us over to the Killing Cave, similar to the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh.

*Continuity error! I hadn’t actually been to the Killing Fields yet when I went to the Killing Cave

Instead of sweating through a long ass hike up the mountain to the cave and then the viewpoint, we decided(ok, I decided. Val just went along with it), to get a ride up on the back of motorbikes. I was thrilled, Val less so.

She actually looks downright pissed off! hahahaIMG_7348

The cave was . . . meh. Even though I hadn’t seen the Killing Fields yet I was still unimpressed. It was no more different from other small caves besides a miniature temple filled with human bones.


At the top of the viewpoint though, we had an amazing view of the surrounding countryside, as well as being privy to witnessing a couple monkeys go at it. Actually, it was more like stalk rape as the male monkey snuck up on the female, did his business, and walked off.


As the day was winding down, our tuktuk driver gave us an option. We could go to an Angkor style temple or we can hang out down at the bottom of the mountain and wait until sunset to watch the bats stream out of the caves. We chose the latter, and I’m quite glad we did. It was amazing to see such a large, steady stream of bats come out for at least twenty or thirty minutes.



After having said goodbye to Val in Phnom Penh, I ended up hooking back up with Janine and Lucy. We grabbed a bus a couple mornings after Val left to head up to Kratie, on the banks of the Mekong, where a pod of Irrawaddy River Dolphins live.

Lucky for us, we managed to arrive in the tiny town, find a place, and hire a tuktuk with plenty of time to catch the sunset at the viewpoint. At the dolphin viewpoint, you each pay $7 for an hour and a half boat ride to get closer to the dolphins. The boat handlers here were well aware of the need for conservation and ours used the engine only once to set us drifting away from the shore and proceeded to only use a paddle to steer us around.

For $7, we were all joking that we’d better see a dolphin in that amount of time! We were rewarded within ten seconds of stepping into the boat. The next hour and a half was spent sitting quietly, trying our darndest to capture images of the small river dolphins coming up for brief moments of air. It was quite fun to be sitting quietly until someone would exclaim “there’s one!” and everyone would turn to look excitedly, even though we know we’d miss it.


We even saw them hunting, as fish jumped out of the water trying in vain to get away from the dolphins. Very playful, these guys were, as sometimes we’d see a fish jump and then be smacked back the other way as though it were a baseball hit by a bat. I assume this stuns the fish long enough for the dolphin to retrieve it for dinner. The whole experience was amazing.

The second, and only actual full day in Kratie, we rented bikes from our guesthouse and proceeded to spend the day biking down the road, through small outlying villages. It was an amazing way to travel around and see all the people who always had the biggest grins on their faces when we would say hello in Khmer. Or at least attempt to pronounce it.


The whole day we biked somewhere around 50km we figured, and boy could we feel it. The seats were not the most padded so all our bums were sore. Legs were stiff. Arms were sunburnt. And our hands were tired from constantly waving to the scores of children that would run out of their homes screaming “Hello!!!!” Worth it though.


Totally and completely worth it.

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