Tuk-tukking, December 2015. One of the many cool things about travelling is the people you meet along the way, often in amusing and unexpected situations. While some of these bonds last for just a day or two, or remain forever connected to just one special moment; it’s great when you form a friendship that goes on to outlast the trip itself. And so it proved with Daryl, who I bumped into on a bus from Siem Reap to Battambang. Crunching our way down a wild stretch of Cambodian road, we quickly got chatting and I learned that this was Daryl’s first stretch of Asian exploring. I on the other hand had just called time on an experimental two months of living and teaching in Siem Reap. We were both excited to see what Cambodia had to offer and by the time we rolled up in Battambang had already drawn up plans to visit the limestone outcrop of Phnom Sampeau and ride the famous Bamboo Train. Checking into our respective hostels, we grabbed some lunch, hailed a tuk-tuk and set off!
Ganesha Hostel, December 2015. The tuk-tuk thing became a running gag between Daryl and I, mainly because we got asked if we needed one approximately five hundred times a day. You could be sitting in a restaurant somewhere working through some noodles: “You wanna tuk-tuk?” squeals a manic voice from behind a plant. Or you might be standing at a urinal doing your business: “You wanna tuk-tuk?” through an open window. One time, Daryl and I were actually in a tuk-tuk on our way somewhere when another driver pulled up alongside us: “You wanna tuk-tuk?” “Of course we bloody don’t, we are in one right now!” While most tuk-tuk drivers were hilarious, baffling, infuriating creatures, we were both impressed by Rit, who ferried us around Battambang one afternoon. He was an atypically mild-mannered driver: Careful, considered, softly spoken and with an interest in his two passengers that transcended the contents of our wallets. If only we could have cloned him for the rest of the trip!
Ta Dumbong Roundabout, December 2015. Wherever we went in Battambang our journey usually took us round this amazing roundabout at the eastern end of town on National Road 5. Ta Dumbong is a legendary figure in Legend has it he was a local cowherd who found a magic stick and used it to usurp the evil king. But having become a man of power, Ta Dumbong grew paranoid that he himself would be killed and had a dream that a holy man on a white horse would vanquish him. And so he decided that the way to deal with this was to order the death of all holy men in the region. From here the story descends into a strange tale of sorcery, flying horses and magic sticks. Convinced he was going to be murdered, Ta Dumbong eventually fled town, never to be seen again.
Outskirts, December 2015. Battambang is a small town, so any trip out to its local attractions will quickly take you through some stunning countryside. Daryl and I made multiple journeys to and fro over our three-night stay and I often think how nice it would have been to have stayed on one extra night in one of the rickety old wooden cabins between the trees.
With drunk ATM security Guard, December 2015. Daryl and I were out in the centre of Battambang one night trying to find an ATM machine on our way to dinner. When we finally discovered a bank that would actually dispense cash (trickier than you’d imagine), I got talking to the security guard stationed outside. Although a bit wary of him at first (a large gun always has that effect on me), I quickly realised that he was a) very friendly, b) extremely bored c) a little drunk and d) keen to practice his pigeon English. Among the flurry of fascinating topics covered during that memorable five minutes: Cambodian girls versus Western girls (“white skin more beautiful” he insisted) and the irony of his job detail (“See more money go from machine in one day than I making one year”).