Day 53 | Khmer New Year festivities in Battambang

On our last morning in Battambang, we took a tuk tuk tour of Wat Ek Phnom which was overrun by students wielding machetes and brooms, visited a crocodile farm and caught a glimpse of families crafting local foods for sale. In the afternoon, we took a van to Siem Reap.

We had a quick breakfast at our hotel and then met up with the young tuk tuk driver who took us to the bamboo train yesterday. On our drive we passed by this truck full of pigs.

Piggies going to the market

We drove for about thirty minutes on a straight but extremely dusty road. Our first stop was Wat Ek Phnom, a temple ruin similar in style to the Angkorian temples. We figured this is a good preview of our next four days in Siem Reap.

Wat Ek Phnom

This beautiful old bodhi tree blends in nicely with the surrounding stones.

Bodhi tree at Wat Ek Phnom

I stood guarding the entrance to the temple.

Welcome to Bodhi tree at Wat Ek Phnom

Few reliefs are still intact. This lintel and pediment shows some epic tug of war action between gods and demons, a story from the Hindu legend of churning the ocean of milk.

Churning the ocean of milk

Today, this pile of rocks was a large playground for students all over the Battambang area. School is out for Khmer New Year. Junior high and high school students took over the whole complex happily wielding machetes and brooms. We asked a girl what the machetes were for, she said chopping. Not super helpful in assuaging our fears of a bloody youth-led rampage.

Kids with machetes

After climbing up and down the temple steps and surrounding stone walls, we were drawn the sound of dozens of kids screaming. Has the bloodbath begun?

Actually, it was just a sack race, a capture the flag game and other competitions between rival high schools. A college-aged woman saw our confused expressions (we were one of the few foreigners here today), so she explained to us in excellent English that school was out for the Khmer New Year holidays. Today’s activities involved cleaning the temple and general fun and games. Here the boys and girls faced off in some sort of capture the flag-type game.

We stayed for a while watching the students as their energy was infectious. Then we moved on to see the adjoining big Buddha.

Big buddha

He was flanked by his disciples.

Buddha's disciples

We were then led to a modern temple in the complex.

Modern temple

We then met our tuk tuk driver for the next stop on our tour. He took us to a local family making sheets of dried banana. We bought some, they were delightfully sticky, chewy and sweet. The mother and daughter of this family worked together to slice the bananas, press them onto wooden pallets and dry them in the hot sun.

Dried banana

Bananas drying in the sun

In their typical Battambang garden, our driver / guide pointed out some common plants such as pineapple.

A pineapple for you and me

And marijuana. That’s right, marijuana is a common ingredient in Cambodian cooking. It’s used in certain traditional soup recipes.

Mary Jane

Next we went to visit another family. The mother and daughter were making rice paper. They bundled the sheets to sell to many local restaurants as well as other families. Similar to the banana, these sheets are left to dry in the sun as well.

Making rice paper

On the last stop of our foodie tour, we visited this woman making the popular roadside snack of sticky rice inside a stick of hollow bamboo.

Bamboo sticky rice

Our tour culminated in a visit to a crocodile farm. As soon as we walked in and paid our entrance fees, the lady of the house pulled 9-month old baby crocodiles out of a bucket and handed them to us.

She even let us touch their teeth. Despite their small size, their teeth are still razor sharp and they are vicious. We had to make sure to hold their necks in the right position firmly to make sure we didn’t lose a finger or two. Both crocodiles are the same age but the one Maurice is holding is male, mine’s female.

Crocodile hunters

Of course, Maurice had to goof around and place his croc on my head.

Croc on my head

We put our baby crocodiles back into their bucket and walked to the adult crocodile pens. We walked one story above the adult crocodiles on unprotected slats of concrete. One wrong step and you can find yourself bunking with the crocodiles for the night.

Lazy crocs

The smell was awful in the dirty stagnant water. Most of the crocodiles had low energy and were floating around like logs or asleep on the ground huddled over other crocs.

Pile of crocs

We did catch at least two pairs of crocs mating. It was rather low energy too.

Then we returned to the tuk tuk and were driven back to the hotel. We had just enough time before the van to Siem Reap picked us up to get lunch at the hotel’s restaurant, which was surprisingly good. We got fresh carrot shakes too.

Carrot shakes

This van ride was uneventful and we arrived only half an hour late to Siem Reap. This is great by Southeast Asia standards. It took us some time winding through Siem Reap town to reach our hotel, the Sarai Resort & Spa, on the other side of the river. Again, Google Maps came up short in designating where the hotel is located behind high gated enclosures.

We checked into the hotel after dark and produced our obligatory hotel room discovery video.

We really liked the sleek Moroccan style design of this boutique luxury hotel. We made a mental note to swim in this pool before we check out.

The Sarai

Then it was time for dinner. We decided to go to the hotel’s restaurant called Goat Tree. Our appetizer, the taro-filled purses were excellent. The Khmer food we ordered was good but not memorable.

Dinner at Goat Tree

For the first time on our trip, we are staying four nights in the same city. Knowing Angkor Wat would be one of the highlights, we wanted to give it the time it deserves.

2 thoughts on “Day 53 | Khmer New Year festivities in Battambang

  • April 22, 2016 at 4:08 pm
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    omg those baby crocs. did they have cute squishy bellies?

    Reply
  • April 24, 2016 at 3:51 pm
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    It is nice you not only visit the ancient Wat Ek Phnom, but also witness the traditional way of living of Cambodians. These kids looks very active and healthy, much better than the kids in the developed world.

    Reply

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