Monday, November 13, 2006

The bucolic countryside

River maidens, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

No luck today uploading any photos, despite being here for more than an hour, so will use one of yesterday's.

We had a great day here around Battambang, being driven around on the back of a couple of motorbikes through the bucolic landscape of western Cambodia, passing through villages of wooden houses on stilts, under which you'd find the family, at least the ones not working such as the old people, mothers and young children manily, sitting around, in the shade, with the pigs or cattle of chickens running around, Rice would be bdrying in the sun, and if there was no-one ot keep an eye on them the piglets woudl start nibbling at the golden rice kernels. We stopped once and counted twelve newly born pink piglets and a 120 kg plus mother, exhuated by her recent labours.

In the fields the rice was ripening in the fields some of of it already being harvested. Buffalos would wallow in the mud whilst men would be tending their nets in the larger pools of muddy water. Occasionally there would pass a cart heavily laden with freshly cut rice, pulled by two white cattle and there would be groups of schoolchildren cycling back home dressed in their uniform of white shirts and navy blue shorts or skirts.

We were off to visit some temples and a killing cave, where the Khmer Rouge dropped people from a height to their certain death below, but we missed out on most of the sites, preferring to chat with the friendly and smiling locals and our drivers, the very entertaining Tea and his sidekick Pye.

We also spent time chatting to the local monks and were again asked to explain the meaning of some very obscure English words some of which we had not heard of and others we had, like Hobbiton, but wondering how they came across such words. No lessons given today althouigh I was shown a project which involved building an extension to soime monks' quarters to provide yet more space for people to learn English. It is very clear that Cambodians really want to learn English, much more, Richard notes, than the Thais would, for example.

A highlight of the day came at the end when we went onto the bamboo train, a very interesting and enterprising way of using the single track railway line bewteen Phnom Penh and Battambang. They would load a platform of bamboo onto some wheels and attach a motor at the back which provided the traction to turn the wheels on the track and get the platform, now loaded with motorbikes, tourists and guides, or more commonly timber, rice and vegetables up and down the line.

It was exhilerating to be travelling on the tarck with the cool afteroon air in your face, passing the green rice paddies with a hazy sun setting behind the trees and hills in the west. The only issue was that it is a one track line and things are tranbsported backwarsda nd frowards which entails a lot of loading and unloading and leap-frogging, or simple waiting to get through. Still, an excellent system all round.

Despite not having much idea of what to do in Battambang, we have decided to spend another day here, visiting the Museum in the morning and meeting up with Tea again in the afternmoon for another trip to the countryside and temples, so we now have a bus ticket to Phnom Penh early on Wednesday morning. (Thank you Uncle Malcolm, for you helpful information about onward transport from PP to HCM City: I quite fancied a trip through the Mekong).

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