Dean and I were on a recce trip for Amansara; cycling, kayaking and riding the famous Bamboo Train but it had to be done in a day so that the guests could be showered and ready to dine in the Aman Restaurant that night.
Just 2 hours from Siem Reap, Battambang once the second largest city is often overlooked in the rush to Angkor. Situated on the banks of the Sangke River in a rich and lush agricultural landscape the city was colonized by the French in 1910, who built the old shop houses and colonial villas that together with the traditional wooden Khmer houses make Battambang the faded architectural gem it is today.
A 6am start and we were on the Sisophon Road heading West to Thailand. 3 hours later we were sipping lattes down St 1½ at Knyei Café, the best coffee in Cambodia from Master Barrista Untac.
Mounting our bikes Dean, Manus and I cycled out of the back streets of Battambang past the shop houses along the riverfront to the stone bridge opposite the Governor’s mansion and into the countryside.
Our route followed successively smaller paths along the riverbank through Buddhist and Cham villages nestling amongst fruit and palm trees. This is the fruit basket of Cambodia blessed with a fertile soil and lush landscape.
We crossed the Sangke River now in full spate with floodwater from the Cardamon Mountains, on its way to help fill the Tonle Sap Lake. One of these days I’m going to kayak from Battambang to Siem Reap. A rickety swing bridge brought us out on the road to Phnom Banan, a pretty Angkorian Temple atop a mountain gouged with bat caves.
We stopped for grape juice and ginger at the Battambang Vinery and asked permission from the old Khmer Madame with twinkly eyes to look for a picnic spot in her vineyards. We found a grassy glade shaded by mango trees near the river, the perfect spot for a picnic and made ready to launch our kayaks for the journey back to town.
A little wary of the current to start but we relaxed when we realized it was doing our job for us. Carrying the kayaks with the current past the villages we’d cycled through and life along the river; boys in small boats casting fishing nets, women washing at the waters edge, old men leading buffalo to wallow.
The most bizarre experience is saved until last, a ride on the Bamboo Train.
Actually it’s a ‘Norrie’ or crude assembly of a bamboo platform on the axles and wheels of salvaged railway stock with an engine attached to a flywheel at the back. Once a necessary means of transporting goods across the countryside when there were few roads now an unexpected half hour ride offering yet another take on Khmer culture.
Indochine Exploration can run this adventure as the very full day trip described or at a slightly more relaxed pace staying one night in an elegant boutique hotel, embarking on the bamboo train Day 2 with an early lunch and back in Siem Reap around 3pm.