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Bamboo trains and bat caves

sunny 33 °C

On our second day in Battambang we've managed to squeeze a lot in. After a hearty breakfast we set off by tuk-tuk to the bamboo train a few kilometres outside the city. On arrival we were greeted by a rather portly member of the local tourist police. His main job seemd to be to tell us who we had to pay. It's usually easy to spot the boss in these parts - he's the fat one. After handing over our $20 we were off. 7km down a track that was laid in 1930 and its at least 30 years since an actual train ran on the line. The bamboo train is basically two sets of wheels that fit the rail gauge, the back set are powered by what looks like a motorcyle engine and a makeshift bamboo platform is placed on top of them. Its ingenious. Its beeen used to transport goods from outlying villages along the tracks to the market in Battambang. At some point in the past they discovered its tourist potential. There's been talk of it closing for several years but news of its demise is a little previous. They'll upgrade the line at some stage but there's still no definite end in sight judging from what information we could glean today.

After our 7km journey during which our train had to be lifted off the track half a dozen times to let other bamboo tarins pass, we arrived at a small village and were mobbed by children. They offered us refreshments and hand made goods (all for a price of course). They then took us to a brick factory to show us how bricks are produced locally. Pretty interesting but the boys had much more fun making things from clay and arm wrestling the local boys. Afterwards we headed back down the line to our start point and made sure to give our driver a few bob. It looks like the fat fella keeps most of the initial fee.

Our next stop was the only existing winery in Cambodia. Whilst there I sampled their red wine (poxy stuff), their brandy (less poxy), their ginger juice (terrible stuff) and their grape juice, which was the pick of the bunch, if you'll excuse the pun. Onwards to Wat Banan, another ruined Angkorian temple with lots of steps up to it. Following our descent we ate at one of the noodle stalls nearby, one of the cheapest lunches we've had in Cambodia this far and with the nicest girl running the show there. Top stuff.

The day was getting on and our next stop was the Cave of Skulls, known as such as it was used by the Khmer Rouge as a killing ground and subsequently used by the occupying Vietnamese forces to murder Khmer Rouge using the very same methodology ie bludgeon someone to death and push them down into the cave. The hill has since been the site of a Buddhist wat called Prasat Snoueng and from it you get an amazing view of the surrounding landscape. It's pretty much flat paddy fields in nearly every direction as far as the eye can see. From there we drove down the hill and witnessed one of the most amazing natural phenomenons. From a cave below, at around six every evening, millions of bats exit and fly off to feed on insects. It takes over an hour for all of them to exit and as they fly off into the distance it looks not unlike a murmuration of starlings. Amazing stuff.

It's Joe's 10th birthday tomorrow so we're getting into party mode here. That's actually a lie, I'm the only one still awake. At least I'm excited.

Posted by goldenmaverick 08:45 Archived in Cambodia Tagged train birthday bamboo bats Comments (2)

Nang Kiaw

sunny 32 °C

Yesterday we took a boat from Muang Khoua which took five hours or so. Taking the boat is a far nicer way to travel in Laos than the normal local bus service. The only drawback is that you get a very sore backside. You get to sit on a plank with not a huge amount of legroom to begin with but as the locals alight along the way you do get a bit of a stretch. We landed yesterday afternoon and a little while after sorting the accomodation we were sitting down having a Beer Lao overlooking the Nam Ou river. This is quite a place. Its surrounded by huge limestone mountains on all sides which are covered in their natural forests. The journey down the river over the last couple of days only served to highlight how much slash and burn farming has been going on. Teak and mahogany forests have been removed and replaced with rubber and tea plants.

Today we rented some bikes and went to visit some caves in the village of Pakse. The limestone caverns were used to hide out in during the Indochina wars. The entire village population lived there for periods of the war. Pretty amazing stuff. There was a small river beside the caves where some local kids were taking a dip. Harry decided to join them. It was quite delightful until I saw one of the kids picking leeches from his leg. When I mentioned it to Harry it seemed to cool his ardour for swimming. In any case, he appears to be leech-free.

Unlike a lot of places we've been recently this place seems to welcome tourists. There's a good selection of restaurants and guesthouses and even in low-season there's plenty of tourists around. We'll chill here for a few days and then move on to Luang Prabang, the former capital of Laos.

We'll go out for dinner in the fanciest place in town tonight as its Carolines birthday. I think we'll steer clear of the Laos Mojitoes we sampled last night. Made from rice wine its akin to drinking laundered diesel with mint, lime and crushed ice.

Posted by goldenmaverick 02:03 Archived in Laos Tagged caves birthday nang_kiaw Comments (7)

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