Saturday, 10 March 2012

Battambang, Cambodia

I think we may have managed to spend a couple of days in Cambodia's second largest city without actually seeing it, but I don't mind because we'll definitely be back and next time we'll stay longer!

I included Battambang in our itinerary for our two-week trip around Cambodia because the guide book said it was little visited and that the French colonial architecture was like nowhere else in the country.  I was also seduced by the rave reviews on agoda.com for a particular family-run hotel consisting of a few bungalows set around a small pool.  So, I booked the said hotel and, after spending a day or two in the capital, Phnom Pehn, we took the bus to Battambang.

We arrived hot and weary after a six-hour bus journey, just as it was becoming dusk.  We got off the bus into chaos as people crowded around.  There were those who were meeting friends and family, vendors trying to sell drinks and snacks (including whole, cooked chickens!) to the passengers who were continuing on the bus to Thailand, and tuk-tuk drivers who were competing for the fares to hotels.  As we were the only Westerners on the bus, competition for our patronage was fierce.  We settled on a friendly-looking driver with a reasonable command of English, Sokha, who offered to take us to our hotel for the princely sum of $1 (and that included him shouldering our not exactly lightweight case across several busy streets to where he'd left his vehicle!).
The pool at the Phka Villa Hotel

So, Sokha delivered us to the unprepossessing entrance of our hotel on a dusty street.  The first thing we noticed was the shocking-pink monstrosity which was the hotel next door, but, once through the gates of The Phka Villa Hotel, all our doubts disappeared.  It was a haven of peace and tranquility.  It was dark by now and the pool was beautifully lit with fairy lights, the bungalows hidden behind lush foliage and vivid tropical flowers.  After a much-needed complimentary ice-cold beer, we were shown to our bungalow which was clean, well-equipped and welcoming.  Not having the energy to head back in to town to find somewhere to eat (despite several recommendations in the guide book), we had dinner by the hotel pool and were delighted by the good food and calm, relaxing ambience.

After a good night's sleep and a leisurely breakfast, we had to force ourselves out of the hotel to do some sightseeing.  We could easily have stayed where we were all day!

However, force ourselves we did and it was well worth it.  We hired Sokha's services for a few hours.  He took us to the Bamboo Railway (which I blogged about here) and then on a tour of the countryside surrounding Battambang.  It was lovely.  We passed through paddy fields and rural villages where the children waved and shouted hellos.  We stopped twice.  The first stop was at a winery where we tasted Cambodian shiraz (an experience we won't be rushing to repeat!) as well as a brandy-type liquor and a ginger and honey drink which the owner assured us would guarantee weight loss.  If that's true, give me a tanker-load and I'll make my fortune!  The second stop was for lunch with the option to ascend a mountain to visit a temple and admire the view of the city.  We declined.  The lure of a cold beer by the pool was too tempting!
Sokha, our lucky tuk-tuk driver!

So, we asked Sokha to return us to our hotel where we spent the rest of the afternoon in and around the pool.  In the evening .... well we ate there, too!  It just seemed too much like hard work to do anything else!

The next morning, we had to leave Battambang very early.  The hotel staff arranged our onward boat tickets to Siem Reap and our transport to get to the boat, so we left the city without ever seeing the famed French architecture or sampling the other culinary delights the city had to offer, but, hey, I'm sure we'll be back!!

See photos of Battambang and its environs here.

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