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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)

It's not grim up North

In fact its bloody delightful

sunny 30 °C

Yesterday we took a long boat through the side canals of Bangkok. It was incredible. Its cheaper to build your house on stilts in the water than to do so on land so a hell of a lot of people live on the waters edge. Our guide brought us around for an hour or so and in that hour she told me who lived where, how old the king was etc. More interesting was the obvious desolation that last Octobers floods had caused. The water rose to a level two meters higher than usual and the damage was pretty obvious to see. Being practical and poor everyone just moved upstairs (if they had one) and got on with it. If you didn't have an upstairs then I guess you stayed wet for a couple of months.The guide pointed out a water monitor (a kind of asian crocodile) and said that seeing one is good luck. Then I saw three more. I must be the luckiest man alive. We were also brought to feed the fish outside the temples. Hundreds of catfish swarming around the boat. Wen you move a hundred metres away from the temple there's a load of poor people trying to catch the fat fish.

Last night we boarded the overnight train to Chiang Mai. Whatever romantic notions we had of it were quickly dispelled. I sat down and the bugs started to bite at my feet.The on-board buffet car guys began an immediate hard-sell of their culinary selection. The 'special express' then moved at a snails pace until six o'clock this morning when everyone had to change to waiting buses. Unfortunately for all concerned there had been a landslide on the track due to heavy rains. We were moved on board buses at a train station about 200 km from Chiang Mai. Due to the kindness and foresight of a Thai man, he ushered us to the front of the queue, whereupon we were put into the downstairs VIP section of what could only be described as a disco bus. Alongside us was a monk and a couple of other travellers. The coach took about four hours to get to Chaing Mai as it only seemed to have two gears, the going up a hill slowly gear, and the going down a hill fast gear.

We arrived in Chiang Mai around lunchtime and despite not knowing where we our lodgings were we still managed to be there about ten minutes after we landed. This time, another Thai guy, hopped out at the station and googled our lodgings address. Into a red taxi and in ten minutes we were there. Nice one. Popped out for a stroll in the dead heat and had some nice Burmese stew for lunch. Fallon & Byrne it ain't but it was top quality stuff

I'm off to pick up the washing from a little shop down the road. I went in to buy some mosquito coils and ended up going back to use their coin-operated machines. Chiang Mai rocks, thus far.



Posted by goldenmaverick 03:54 Archived in Thailand Tagged canals water train chiang mai burmese long-boat stew monitors Comments (5)

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