Temporary rice fields
For years, passing the big advertisig billboard enticing visitors to come to Cambodia (admittedly, a little too late if you are already here!?!) I thought it read: "Cambodia, Kingdom of Water"..... One day I had a revelation and my eyes saw what it actually said: "Cambodia, Kingdom of Wonder". Amazing how both are fitting. And amazing what your eyes choose to see!
Siem Reap may be just about one of the flattest places I know, take away the very few hills we have in our vicinity. Despite being challenged in this way, the countryside is picturesque and changes with the seasons - as one would expect. Seasons in Cambodia range from hot and dry, hot and humid and hot and wet - to keep things simple. Sometimes even hotter. Or unbearably hot - I think you get the picture....
Where has all the water gone?
Currently we are entering the rainy season and water in rivers, Tonle Sap lake and other water sources is at the lowest, but afternoon rains are becoming more and more regular. This provides for dramatic afternoon skies and amazing sunsets, dust settles and capuccino coloured land turns into emerald green with new rice crops creating beautiful eye-soothing patch work.
Baray Teuk Thla - or Western Baray in translation - is an ancient water reservoir measuring approximately 8 x 2.1km, and today is a popular weekend hang out spot. Hang out literally, you can laze in hammocks, watch locals splashing in the luke warm waters and sip on a beverage or two.
The water levels rise and fall with the seasons and the difference between dry and wet can be striking.
Ingeniously, with water being low, large parts of the baray are turned into rice fields and crop is harvested just
in time, before the reservoir fills up with water again.
Mid day rest in the shade
Wat Swei Romeat is an active, yet peaceful pagoda on the banks of the baray
with a good vantage point and plenty of photo opportunities. Friendly monks clad in signature bright orange robes go about their daily routines and - for exchange of a few new English words - you can get a glimpse of pagoda life.
In the middle of the ancient baray lies West Mebon - an island temple in poor shape consisting mainly of a single wal; in wet season surrounded entirely by water and accesible only by boat, today - at the very driest - accesible by motorbike and even (dry) foot.
In mid April construction of a four meter high dyke 30 meters beyond the temple boundaries begun. This will enable the four year restoration work to continue during wet and dry seasons, uneffected by the levels of water in the baray.
View from one of the few hills around
It was time to leave the work "ball and chain" behind and head to the hills. Actually, let me rephrase: head across the Siem Reap province plains towards Battambang. It would be unfair to say that the 170km stretch of National Road #6 and #5 sees no hills but they are very few and far between.
Cambodia's second largest city can be reached in couple of hours - these days thankfully on sealed roads all the way. My first encounter with National Route #6 was in 2004 and this is another story altogether, so watch this space!
Old Pepsi factory, colour co-ordinated
One would hardly guess the population of Battambang to be over 140000, there is a very relaxed feel to the city although in the last few years things have started to happen. Ambitious buildings are appearing where last year there was only abandoned land and tourism is on the rise.
But don't let this deter you from visiting Battambang, even if you are looking for Cambodia of the past. In certain parts time has stood still. This wasn't my first time in the city, nor the last. Having seen the "must sees" (Phnom Banan, Phnom Sampeau, Bamboo Train, Ek Phnom...) on a previous visits, I had a special agenda in mind: old colonial buildings and urban decay.
The weather Gods provided a perfect mood settings for such task, the blue skies of the morning turned in to patchy grey and rain was hanging overhead eventually turning into a drizzle. We headed to the abandoned Pepsi factory which has been left untouched since mid 1970's. Not knowing what to expect, we sneaked in and explored the complex of buildings; rotting concrete and maze of corridors providing living space for number of families, children playing, clothes drying and dogs too lazy to preted to care. Old wooden crates and bottles are still stored the way they were left on the last working day and to a collector's mind they whisper: cobweb covered treasure....secured by a rusty padlock behind old roller doors, ghosts from the past.
Looking for a road...
When the rain has passed we headed out again, into the fields, enjoyin the green open spaces of the surrounding fertile countryside. Getting lost a few times, covered in mud, we eventually found a way back to the city.
Train station, where time stood still
It was a flying visit.
The next morning, rising early with the chanting and ting-a-ling-a-ling wedding music (which follows me everywhere I go) we checked out of our cheap and cheerful hotel, had a quick brekky and were on our way again. Driving along we found another gem: the half restored Railway Station where a giant clock reads 8:00, unsure of the date. I could have spent hours there. Battambang also has a fair share of picturesque pagodas, but time was pressing.
Return journeys always seem to take shorter time than getting there and so, occasionally getting soaked by passing rain - nature's own airconditioning for the motorcyclist - we were back in Siem Reap.
Great weekend adventure with tons of photographs to get through at the end of it. It's a hard life...and I will definitely be heading back to Battambang soon!
anna bella betts
Never still, always on the move, looking for the perfect capture... Cambodia is currently my home, presenting endless opportunities....
In this blog you will find no profound wisdom.
Just accounts of daily life, sometimes about photography, often about wine, occasionally about travel adventures and sometimes about nothing at all.