Most people come to Cambodia to visit the ancient temples of Siem Reap, but as always when travelling some of the most memorable experiences are those you stumble across rather than those you seek out. Our cycle around Battambang is one experience that I will treasure forever. After a long bus journey, we arrive in picturesque Battambang, in the northwest corner of the country. It’s a welcome respite after the horrors of the killing field and genocide museum and the buzz of Phnom Penh city. I’m looking forward to checking into The Classy Hotel. The breakfast is amazing and there’s a pool…. all’s good in the life of a ‘classy lady’!
The following morning, the sun is shining, and we set off on a cycle tour in the countryside, where we will also visit some local families. We are out of the city in minutes, cycling along country roads full of villagers going about their daily lives. It’s Sunday and the local children are playing, shouting hello and waving as they run beside our bikes with their happy smiling faces. It’s clear that the villagers have very little, but accept the strange convoy of westerners wearing helmets and they too smile, clasp their hands together and bow, saying ‘Arun Suesday’ (Good morning). We stop at the homes of two families, one family is busy making rice paper, in the other a women shows how she sun dries bananas over bamboo and collects rubber form a handful of trees on her land. The homes here are wooden and built on stilts which helps to prevent the flood waters in the rainy season from reaching their homes, and also serves as a useful work and family space which is cool in the hot season. Both families tell us how the years after the fall of Pol Pot’s regime were hard. They returned to their homes in 1979 to find that there had been ‘a first come first serve’ policy with regards to property and land, and many families came back to find their home’s already occupied. Civil war with Vietnam continued for another 20 years and it was only in 1992 that the UN finally arrived in the country to help. Cambodian’s fought with each other for property and land, forcing many of them to look at alternative ways of surviving. Many died from starvation and disease Healthcare was in short supply after 90% of doctors in the country were executed during the Khmer Rouge’s regime. The people we visit work hard, often 7 days a week just to keep their family fed, clothed and educated. I am humbled by the welcome they give us in their homes.
On our return to the city we visit a street vendor who makes and sells Kralan, bamboo sticky rice cake. Small bamboo sections are stuffed with sticky rice, red beans, grated coconut and coconut milk and then slowly roasted over a charcoal fire. The blackened outer bamboo casing is trimmed off and the bamboo layers are peeled away to reveal a tasty afternoon snack. I must admit it is delicious. I have loved this morning. I’ve always enjoyed cycling, one becomes part of the countryside in a way that walking or using a motorised vehicle doesn’t and I think any future visits to this country will definitely include travelling by bicycle.