Found my favorite destination so far: Battambang

Before entering Cambodia I had heard so many travelers say that Cambodia is their favourite place in South East Asia. My expectations were high but I couldn’t find “the magic” from Sihanoukville, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked those places but something was missing.. until I came to Battambang! As soon as I stepped out of the bus I knew that this place would be special. And it was! I had no setbacks except when I tried to leave from Battambang. I will tell you about that in another post..

Even though Battambang is the second largest city of Cambodia it seems like a cute little town. Everything was almost perfect. The people, even the tuk tuk drivers, were very nice, my guesthouse was great, the city was compact but had things to do and to see, the food and drinks were affordable and tasty. I really have no complaints except that it was extremely hot in the middle of the day and the mosquitoes were meaner than in other places where I’ve been. But really, the people were really friendly and they treated you like you are one of them or their friend. I didn’t feel like “a walking money machine”. The people seemed to be interested in you and specially the children were so adorable. I heard and saw so many cute “hello” greetings and waves. My heart melted!

I spent a bit over two days in Battambang. On first day I explored the city randomly and visited some temples. I also went to see a bat cave which is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. Everyday thousands of bats fly out of their cave to get food and hundreds of tourists go to see this. I have to admit though that it was a very cool view! On the second day I did a half day bicycle tour with Soksabike. I had a really great guide and I was the only one doing the tour on that day so that was great. We went to the countryside and visited some local families and I was able to see e.g. how they make rice wine, rice paper, dried banana chips and rice cake cooked inside a bamboo. That trip was the best tour that I have ever made! I thought at first that it is a bit pricy, 27 USD, but after the trip I think it was totally worth it. I had a chance to try the delicacies, practice some Cambodian sentences and cycle which was so nice. I have really missed actually doing something active. I think we cycled 20km in the end. I could have cycled more because it was so much fun.

From the snacks that I ate during the tour, I liked the rice cake the most. It was so good and I think it is better than sticky rice. You peel the bamboo and eat the “cake” with your fingers. The crust is a bit harder than the inside and the texture is little dry but not too dry. My rice cake was made of coconut milk, rice and red beans. Yummy! Even though I really enjoyed the tour it was a bit sad to hear the reality of the families. They work so hard and the profit from their hard work is not big. All these experiences make me think the times when I complained that my paycheck is not big enough. Of course everything is relative and Finland really isn’t a cheap country to live in but I guess most important thing is to whine less and appreciate more what one has.

On the last evening in Battambang and in Cambodia, I got a chance to go to an open-air concert that was sponsored by Ganzberg beer brand. I went to the concert with my bicycle tour guide and his friends. I was very happy to be there because it was full of Cambodians and it was just the perfect ending for my time in Cambodia. I heard Cambodian pop and saw interesting performances. One thing that I have noticed from all the Cambodian music videos and what I was told about the songs is that Cambodians have lots of love songs! I mean a lot. :-D

Funny thing is that I got also an invitation to a wedding party but I declined the invitation because I think it wasn’t a good and a safe idea. The person who invited me to the wedding was the tuk tuk driver who took me to the bat cave. I hardly knew him and I would had been dependent on him because the wedding party was held like 5km outside the city. If only the party would had been inside the city I could had considered going..

Comments about the Ganesha Guesthouse:

  • Very nice, friendly and helpful staff
    • I even got a needle and a thread to fix couple of holes and they would had given me the whole thread if I would had wanted to take it.
  • They have a movie room and they show The Killing fields movie every night and the ticket is only one dollar
    • Very well-made movie but also really sad. I recommend watching it but the subject is very heavy.
  • Mosquito net and a personal fan
    • A con is that you can’t use both at the same time because they just don’t work together. Either you are free from the mosquitoes or free from the heat.
  • Free pool and free towel
  • Good food in the restaurant
  • Only 4.5 USD per night in a mixed dorm

Yesterday I arrived to Bangkok and I noticed that I was missing Cambodia a bit. Overall I really liked Cambodia and Battambang was the crucial part to make me fall in love with the country. I really would like to visit Battambang again and also go to Kep and to Kampot for which I didn’t have time this time. Cambodia, until we meet again ♥

PS: I hate mosquitoes!!!!!

PPS: Has anyone ever heard about a Ganzberg beer??

Siem Reap – home of impressive archaeological sites

I am writing from Battambang where I arrived today by bus. It is pretty hot here and I am sweating like a pig. Some weather forecast pages claim that it is 34°C. And tomorrow it should be 35°C…

I came to Battambang from Siem Reap which is located in the north of Cambodia. It is famous for it’s archaeological sites of Angkor. Angkor is a vast area that has many remains of ancient temples. I was told that one should visit the Angkor temples (also UNESCO World Heritage site) at least for two days but I was pretty sure I’d be fine with one full day. And I was happy that I went there because the remains were very fascinating and impressive but I was right –  for me one long day in Angkor was enough. In total I spent three full days in Siem Reap.

Unfortunately I was feeling a bit sick on the night before leaving to Siem Reap and on the travel day I felt sicker. When I arrived to Siem Reap I measured fever and found that I had a small fever and I had a headache. I decided to take it easy and not do anything on that day except eat and sleep. Like I wrote earlier I spent one long day at the temples but on the other two days I didn’t do anything special. I ate, went to the vast market area and bought a few things. I also went to see a movie to a cinema but it was a bit different kind of cinema than I am used to. Siem Reap has only one cinema and it is a “private cinema”. There are 10 movie rooms in Angkor Cinema and one can choose a film from a wide selection of movies that the staff will play for you. You need to be at least a group of 2 because then you pay 5 USD each. If you are alone, you pay 10 USD. The rooms have comfortable seats and a small movie projector screen. The quality of the projection wasn’t superb but it was ok. I went to the cinema with another traveler and we ended up wanting to watch The Great Gatsby. I was thrilled that they had it because it is too long movie for me to watch at home but of course, with my luck, they couldn’t show it. We had to choose another movie.. So the first movie that I’ve seen in the last six months in a cinema was Hercules :-D Not a very good movie but Hercules looked good!

I liked Siem Reap on most parts even though there aren’t really much to see except the Angkor temples. Well yeah, they have couple of museums and a crocodile farm but they didn’t seem to be interesting enough.. One thing that I really hated were the tuk tuk drivers. Most of them were nice but there were few really nasty fellows who didn’t like that I didn’t want their taxi services. They shouted either in English or in Cambodian something mean and sometimes other tuk tuk drivers laughed to their “funny” jokes.

Also my arrival to my hostel didn’t really go smoothly. My tuk tuk driver said to me at first that he knows where my hostel is but he tried to leave me to another hostel which clearly wasn’t the right place. Even he admitted that and then said that he doesn’t really know where my hostel is. He really wanted to ditch me but I decided to play a little “drama queen” act and started saying things like “I trusted in you when you said where my hostel is” and “I am very disappointed that you lied to me”. I also said I wouldn’t pay because we agreed on that he would take me to my hostel. Suddenly the tuk tuk starts moving again and while he is driving he is saying that he actually knows my hostel but he knows that it is full.. I decided to act a bit more and say melodramatically that “why did you take me then to the other place”. He knew that I had a booking.. he remained silent. The story got even more weird when we arrived to the right hostel. The receptionist lady looked at me with a face that said “wtf are you doing here” and she started repeating that they are full. At this point I had to really calm my nerves. I said that I had a booking and finally she found it from their papers. Then when I get to the room it is not even full, and it never was full during my time there! There were couple of other single girl travelers who had experienced the same. The whole thing was like a really bizarre movie scene. I decided to stay there because it was cheap and after Sihanoukville’s hostel I wanted to save some money. I was very suspicious about staying there but I decided to take a risk and face everything from an adventurous point of view. My trip had been too good and I had no interesting stories in my hand! In the end everything became normal and everything was ok. The staff actually became nicer every day, and it was hard to even believe the experience from the first day to be true. The best part was that after the tuk tuk driver took me to the right hostel and I had paid him, he asked me: “So what time will we go to the temples tomorrow?” I wanted to use a bit stronger words but I just said that “I have no specific plans yet and good bye“.

Comments about the Cambodia Backpacker Guesthouse:

  • cheap! 5 USD per night in a mixed dorm
  • towel included in the price, breakfast not
  • free toothbrush, a comb, a soap and a green liquid that I haven’t checked what it is
  • free refill of water
  • internet wasn’t very good sometimes
  • they had a cute baby and a dog named Billy :-D (nastiest dog ever)
  • the bed was a bit hard
  • the hostel has a very nice and sweet tuk tuk driver who took me and another traveler to the temples
  • quite close to the main market area, even though it was on the back-alley (but I felt safe even when it was dark)

Btw I highly recommend the Giant Ibis transport company. I took their bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and paid 15 USD (+1 USD because of internet booking). Maybe it was a bit pricy but it was worth it. It was easy to book via internet and you get an e-ticket, the bus had a good air conditioning, lots of space for feet, you get a free water bottle and a tasty bun. It is the best bus I have ever used!