Battambang is Siem Reap’s creative, little brother. This city has a lot of beautiful, small art galleries & special shops. The Phare Ponleu Selpak circus is a MUST VISIT! This non profit organisation provides an education & art classes to disadvantaged children. They learn how to express themselves through art. Just like in Siem Reap, the humidity is very high in Battambang and that includes ‘little’ monsoons every now and than… They appear out of nowhere and if you don’t find shelter within 5 seconds, you will have to wring out your undies! I did not really find a city centre in Battambang, but a lot of interesting streets. The city is more raw than Siem Reap, but that makes the contrast with the beautiful artwork & bustling creativity so interesting. In my upcoming posts I will share a bit more about the horrific history of Cambodia.
In Battambang, I stayed at beautiful Bric-à-Brac. There are only 3 rooms at this unique boutique hotel, so you become a part of the family here. The owners: Robert & Morrison, will make sure you feel welcome. Robert is the author of 5 (!) cookbooks and Morrison is a creative mastermind. There is a beautiful shop downstairs, where Morrison will show you how some of the items are made.
The beautifully decorated rooms at Bric-à-Brac are not the cheapest in town, but they feel like home and a baguette, with jam & butter, for breakfast is included, with some coffee or tea.
After reading some amazing reviews on Tripadvisor, I decided to book a tour with Bun. This friendly, young guy, drove me around Battambang for two days and introduced me to some special people & places. The old lady in the photo above has been rolling cigarettes since she was 12 years old and managed to get her sons to college in the US. She doesn’t have to work anymore, but says she is addicted to rolling the tobacco… like she is to chewing it. She gave me a tiny fish trap for good luck, that is in my living room at home now.
When you realize that this power woman raised her boys during the terrifying Pol Pot regime, you will admire her strength even more. I honestly did not know a lot about the dark years this country had to endure. Between 1975 and 1979 The Khmer Rouge killed over 2 million Cambodians, more than a quarter of the population, in the most brutal ways. In my upcoming post about Phnom Penh I will tell you more about this devastating period.
Rice noodles in the making.
The local hairdresser.
Bun takes me to The Killing Cave, where thousands of people were tortured and thrown into by The Khmer Rouge. Inside the cave there are hundreds of skulls. Back outside, Bun shows me a remarkable phenomenon. Just around sunset thousands and thousands of bats fly out of the cave in 1 long flow, amost like a dance. I think of all the lives that were lost in these caves. The bats will make sure, that by their daily flight to the light, those in the dark, will never be forgotten.
Bun introduces me to 2 monks who have been long time friends. When I ask them if I can take a photo of them, they start perfecting each other’s robes for a good 5 minutes, so they look perfect for the photo. Love the Ray-Ban’s (see photo below). A little further down the road, Bun points out a sign by the road that says ‘special meal’: dog meat…. How lovely. Snails are drying in the sun and if you crave some tasty rats on a stick, you won’t have to look far.
Learning how to make rice paper.
Rats on a stick anyone?
At night I visit the Phare Ponlue Selpak circus. These kids are professional acrobats & entertainers! It moves me to watch them bring light and joy to the audience, to see them work together, have fun & laugh with each other. The art & creativity of this place is what troubled Cambodia needs. After a long period of terror & corruption, this country deserves to get back on its feet, but there is a long road ahead. How do you rebuild a country when all the intellectuals, like doctors & teachers, are murdered. This night, at this amazing circus, we feel the light coming back.
Phare Ponlue Selpak
Cambodia has made a deep impression on me and is one of the most special places in the world I have visited so far. I was shocked by the horrific history and was astounded by the fact that my knowledge about this period in time was so limited. In The Netherlands we learn a lot about WW2 in school, because it effected our country so much, but Cambodia has been through hell just a couple of years ago and people were killed on a massive scale. My generation needs to learn more about that and we need to help this country recover. I have never met more friendly & helpfull people, than here, while they have every reason to be stand-offish to outsiders. Nobody helped them, when all hell broke loose in the ’70’s. We ‘didn’t know’ what was happening.