We spent the last days of our time in Cambodia in Battambang (pronounced roughly: bat-dam-bong) which translates to “loss of stick”. The name comes from an intricate, regional story involving the fellow in the picture above, rice that turned black, and a misplaced stick. We learned of the tale from a tuk tuk driver we spent a whirlwind day with who showed us all around the area and did a great job helping us understand what we were seeing. We spent the whole day seeing all of the kinds of things a person goes traveling to see.One of our first stops of the day was at a roadside sticky rice vendor. She was in the process of finishing a batch and our driver relayed the steps for us. The cook mixed sticky rice, coconut milk, sugar and beans and filled one half of foot long pieces of bamboo. She then fired them for about two hours in a trough of coals. Once mostly cooled she used a machete to whittle away the outer layers of bamboo until only a cardboard thin layer remained around the cooked rice mixture. Our second stop was at a family owned rice paper factory. If you have ever had a spring roll you may have wondered how they make those little, perfectly round, paper-thin wrappers. It is quite a process! The rice is dried and then ground into powder and reconstituted with water until it is just the perfect consistency. The mixture gets spread over a membrane and steamed for about twenty seconds and then gets dried in the sun. Heat for the steam is generated by burning rice husks. We were able to sample a couple wrapped around spring rolls the family made on the spot.This colony of fruit bats was roosting in a tree just on the edge of a small village we passed through. This is such a common sight the locals just went about their business below as casually as we would near a flock of pigeons.We also saw bats of another variety, just at sunset, emerging from a cave in the hillside of Phnom Sampeu. Literally millions of these small insectivorous pour out in a constant stream for almost an hour, headed off to hunt insects above the vast acres of the region’s rice patties. It was mesmerizing!
Bats are not the only wildlife active in the Cambodian countryside. These little guys were hanging out any place people had snacks. They were very cute but had become so accustomed to humans and their food that they had to be constantly shewed away.Another famous attraction in the area is the bamboo train, locally known as norry – an abandoned rail line put to use by locals to transport goods and people. The “train” consists of bamboo flats setting on recycled axles and wheels powered by a small utility motor. One short stretch is popular with tourists and Amber and I took a quick ride.
The ride was fast and furious! When riding a roller coaster in the states I always have it in the back of my mind that; no matter how dangerous it may feel, it has been thoroughly tested and certified before public use. This attraction, however, came with no such peace of mind. It made the trip a lot more exciting! After use, trains are disassembled and stored off-track until needed again.Amber and I were very taken with Cambodia. The people are just amazing and there is so much to experience. We would like to return one day to explore more of the thousands of temples and learn more of the country’s long history. But for now, as always, we had a bus to catch and another border to cross – this time into Thailand. We only spent a few days in Bangkok. We were scheduled to fly to our next destination and just had time to visit a few sites. As it happened, King Bhumibol Adulyadej had died just two weeks before and the country is in a period of mourning. He was the world’s longest-reigning monarch, having been on the throne since 1950. Thailand has experienced a lot of political instability during the last 70 years but the king had remained a constant. And despite the constant governmental turn-over he had brought development and income increases to the population. Everywhere we went there were portraits of the king, flowers, videos running about his reign, banners and displays and people dressed in black.We made our way to the Grand Palace the day it opened to the public for mourning. We were welcomed right along with the nationals and everywhere we looked there were mourners, displays, volunteers, military personnel in uniform and tent after tent with free food and drinks. Bus after bus arrived delivering Thai people from outside the city to pay their respects. Amber and I felt very honored to be included in this somber yet historic moment in Thailand’s history.There is a lot of uncertainty in Thailand now, as well, as the king’s son and successor has a colorful history of his own. Only time will tell if the upcoming transition of power will be smooth or fraught with the all too common political chaos previously known in Thailand.