It took 5 hours and Emanuel was bed-ridden for about 15 minutes after what was probably the bumpiest ride of our lives. But we made it. Thank god for my 3G phone, as the bus went by our lodging, the Coconut House before entering the core of the “city” and we were able to hop off and check in easily. The first thing you notice about Battambang: it’s quiet. Sure, the holiday weekend was upon us, but even so, there was a severe lack of traffic and tuk-tuks and all else.
I didn’t take too many photos on the first night, as a lot of our walking was along the dark (though beautiful) river park, and through streets that were, quite frankly, very similar to Phnom Penh. The “French colonial feel” is very similar to Phnom Penh as well, though the streets are more spread out. It would be a great setting for some postmodern Western movie, I think.
One thing that’s unique about Battambang is the art. Though there aren’t too many art galleries compared to a Western city of Battambang’s size, the art and “weirdness” of the city is easily discoverable, whether it’s strange bikes hanging from balconies, or graffiti and murals in strange corners. The expats have obviously established a culture that, along with active Cambodian artists, has created a niche here.
We got dinner at the over-priced and passable Gecko Cafe, which is overrated/over-hyped. The noodle bar was interesting but boring. Emanuel’s spicy fish was a bit perturbed.
After dinner, a random homeless guy, who was one of the highlights of the trip, at least in terms of absurdity, approached us. He just started walking with us and talking to us. At first I thought he was hustling some drugs/women or was going to try and get us to go to a particular bar, but after a while that’s not exactly what it was all about. Sopheap (a common name in Khmer) had only been in Battambang for five days after he got into a freak accident while working at a resort in Thailand. He lost the use of his hand and had no way to get it fixed. He had to walk from Poipet to Battambang and that had taken something like ten days, an outrageously long journey in Cambodian time. He also claimed to be from Kampot, and was trying to get money to go to Phnom Penh. How? By asking for donations, and for being an impromptu “tour guide” of Battambang. If you ever visit Battambang, you’ll notice from the tourist maps at every Western-centric restaurant that Battambang is not difficult to navigate. Regardless of whether or not Sopheap was telling the truth or scamming us to get cash (at times he did come off as a drug addict or drunk with the way he slurred his words), he was actually an enjoyable an unique person to walk the late-night, quiet streets of town with, and learning his story in general was more than enough for the $3 we gave him in the end. One thing we ended up doing was going to a cool Khmer club that we never would have found without his help, called Skylight, located next to the city’s biggest KTV joint. Though it felt more like a high school dance than anything else, the music was great and there were no prostitutes (that we could tell) and we were generally left to have a fun time. Had I been with more adventurous souls, I probably would have danced, but Emanuel is not the dancing type. We enjoyed a beer then left. Oh, and the DJ was DJ Rith, and he’s amazing. Check him out if you’re ever in Battambang.
Our two pics of this ghostly enigma:
After the club and the donation, we wished Sopheap luck and went on our way back to the hotel.