We left our island of paradise and got a ferry across to Sihanoukville. We decided to spend a couple of nights in Otres to chill out and get some upcoming travel plans finalised. We didn’t do a whole lot there but Hannah and Paul were also there so we spent our evenings having dinner and drinks with them, went to a night market and watched a pretty nice sunset.
Our next destination was Battambang but first we had quite a journey ahead of us to get there. We left Otres on a minibus for Phnom Penh which took a nice long 7 hours. We decided to stay in Phnom Penh for a night as we had heard some horror stories regarding the night buses here. After a quick sleep at Base Hostel, we had a 7am start and another long bus ride ahead. This one was another 7 hours where we shared our bus with tourists, locals and their live chickens!
That evening we went to a night market with Hannah and Paul before getting an early night. The four of us had hired a tub tuk driver for the next day to take us around to different sites. Hannah and Paul had been recommended by other travellers to do his tour so we were excited to see where he was taking us.
Our tour started at 9am where our excited driver Phil Lay greeted us at our hotel with a big smile. His tour started at the local market where locals go to buy anything from fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. As you can imagine the smells were quite strong and some of the meat (chickens, ducks etc) was being sold still alive. There was also a lot of interesting items being sold such as snakes, frogs, beetles, eels, mongoose, pig heads or feet, mice and rats. They really don’t waste any of the animal they sell, there were tubs of intestines and stomachs from a anything from pigs to fogs. Phil Lay told us that the middle class to well off locals buy the fish bodies whilst the poor will buy the heads or the guts that are usually thrown away.
After the market we went to the Bamboo train where we got to ride along the broken up tracks on a rolling platform which was really fun and surprisingly fast. At the end of the train we were greeted by a group of kids who were really funny. They kept calling us their brother and sister and hugging us.
We continued our tour driving through small villages and seeing how they make dried banana and rice paper. The dried banana was made by a lady in her home. She hand cuts thin pieces of banana and then lays them out to dry in the sun. Phil Lay purchased some for us and it was delicious.
The rice paper was made by two girls who had a very fast and impressive production line.
Our next stop was the killing field where Phil Lay told us a story of his time during the Khmer Rouge. Originally from a wealthy family, he was one of the first taken from the city and forced into slave labour, working in the fields for 3 years and 8 months. He survived two bouts of malaria whilst living on a ration of half a cup of rice a day. He had to watch his family members starve to death or be killed. After being liberated he walked for 30 days from Battambang to Phnom Penh with nothing but the clothes on his back. Once he arrived he had no choice but the leave to avoid conscription to the Vietnamese army. Turning around and making the 300km/30 day journey back to Battambang. Not liking what was happening there he traveled to Thailand and spent 9 years in a refugee camp, rebuilding his life before becoming a driver in the Army. He then went onto become a policeman in Battambang before retiring and working as a tour guide. He told this story with a smile on his face as he considers himself one of the lucky ones who survived. Another truly remarkable survivor we’ve had the pleasure to meet.
We had time still before lunch so Phil Lay took us to a ruins temple which gave us our first glance at a Khmer style temple. It was built in the same stone that the Angkor Was temples are which made us excited to visit them!
We had worked up an appetite and it was time for a lunch break. Phil Lay took us to a restaurant on a lake where we could swim. We all found a bamboo hut where you could rest up in a hammock or spend time jumping off the hut into the 18m deep lake. We obviously spent our time jumping into the lake.
Our last destination for the day was a the Killing Cave where during the Khmer Rouge people were bludgeoned to death before being tossed into the holes which served as the skylights to the caves. The caves now have buddhas, memorial statues and glass cabinets full of skulls inside.
Like a lot of places in South East Asia, the Killing Cave was home to a lot of monkeys. Charlie had fun taking photos of them whilst I ran away from any heading my way.
We stayed there until sunset where we got to see all the bats inside the cave fly out to hunt. There are over 6 million bats inside and they fly out in a continuous group for 30 minutes.
It was an unforgettable day and we really wouldn’t have seen all of this or even known about half of these places if it wasn’t for Phil Lay. We ended our night at the night market where the 4 of us said our goodbyes to Phil Lay and then chatted about the days activities over dinner and drinks.