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We have a 5½ hour tuk tuk tour of Battambang. Our guide’s name is Bun which means ceremony.
His father died when he was seven months old. His sister got malaria, and they didn’t have money for the hospital. He comes from a poor rural family. She had to borrow money from a loan shark at 20% interest.
His mother said Bun had to quit school and sent him to Thailand at 14 to work and send money home. Bun did not know the language. He started in construction, and they made him carry items to the highest places. He only worked there for three months. He was scared, very homesick and wanted to go home. His mother said he had to stay because they still needed to pay back the money to the loan shark.
Then Bun worked in a restaurant for seven months. The boss liked him and made him a bartender. Bun was 15 and served liquor long before he was able to drink a beer.
Bun has three sisters and one brother. His brother is seven years older. I wondered why his brother was not the one to help the family. He had escaped poverty earlier by going to the temple and becoming a munk. They can leave the monastery at any time.
In Cambodia they really would rather have girls because their government offers no assistance to the elderly and girls will care for the parents.
After two years his mother contacted him to say that they had paid off the loan shark and to come home.
Bun started driving a tuk tuk and he was struggling. Then a tourist created a website for him. Later another tourist set up an account on TripAdvisor for him. His sisters had little education but could not afford to go to school. He paid their way for careers as beauticians. They are so thankful and plan to give him a portion of their earnings to help him get a dowry so that he can get married. A dowry is $5,000. He said, “No money, no honey.”
We gave him a good tip toward his future and wished him well. He dropped us off at a restaurant called About The World. These are also struggling Cambodians. Always ask the locals to recommend places that need the support of tourists.
The bamboo train, or nori in the Khmer language, is a small wooden-framed deck that sits on top of two independent axles, reclaimed from damaged tanks left over from the civil war.
Nowadays, it is powered by a small motorcycle or tractor engine and travels only a portion of the track.
We went to a nearby village about four miles away. The sound was around 80 decibels. I eventually put on ear plugs and at the end gave a set to my poor driver.
There are 30 families that live along the tracks and each family runs the operation one day each month and gets the proceeds. Watch our wild ride here:
At the end of one way was a small village that earns a living from the bamboo train passengers.
A young boy named Kee is a budding entrepreneur. He offered us fresh coconut water@ $1. He sold Rob a bamboo train shirt that can only be purchased here. (I doubt that.) And I bought a little Cambodian dress for our expected granddaughter. I would have guessed that Kee was 7 or 8. When I asked his age, he proudly announced that he was 13. Here is a picture of Kee’s mom, Me (the giant), and Kee. I wondered how tall Kee would be with proper nutrition.
There is only one track so if traffic is coming, one of the cars has to disassemble and move off the track and reassemble once the track is clear.
Yee-haw, Gomer! Thirty miles an hour with no seatbelts or guardrailsl!!!
After the train we rode in the tuk tuk through the countryside. We saw many things. It is very dusty.
So we have gone Asian and wear a mask. It helps with dust and pollution.
I bought a stylish reusable one to color coordinate with my outfit. Rob used the freebie that was provided.
Here is a Cambodian Walmart. Bun said that this man sells lots of piggy banks. People don’t trust the banks.
Bun said that one man put his money under his bedding and rats got into it, and he lost all of his money.
Here are fruit bats.
A lady fishing in the canal near the rice fields.
Bun must have had me pegged as a nature lover because he showed us two plants that react to tactile stimuli.
When the mimosa plant is touched, the leaves react by closing which happens when an insect lands on the leaves. Watch this video:
Here is something called pop seeds. Bun doesn’t know the official name.
Pop seeds will pop open when the water touches them.
Bun says when it rains, it makes a lot of noise. Watch this video:
City vs Country
In the country, they raise their own vegetables. They don’t take them to the city since it is too costly. The city people drive out here and buy their vegetables. They are cheaper and healthier due to organic farming. The farmers are ready to sell at 3am.
Sometimes a man will live abroad and even be married. He comes home and says that he is single. He will convince a poor rural girl to live with him and then they will marry in his city abroad. Guess what? After a few months the cheating man returns home to his wife and leaves a poor girl now unfit for marriage. This prompts ideas of suicide which is often carried out. Virginity is prized by most cultures, and girls everywhere need to protect it and not easily give it away.
Bun gets 5 to 10 wedding invitations per month. Women don’t want to be seen in the same clothes so they rent clothes that they wear to the wedding. Weddings take place during the dry season as it will be better attended and therefore, the couple will receive more money.
Bun was a best man and will never do it again. He was knackered. We didn’t know what that meant? It’s what Brits say when they are tired. They also say cream crackered.
Bun said that the wedding lasted 2 to 3 days and started at 4:30am with a one hour break. The bride gets up at 3:00am. I told him that he should ask the groom to be his best man some day, but he said that only unmarried people can be in the wedding party.
The groom was 24 and the bride was 16. The law says that she must be 18, but the bride’s family knew someone in the government. They were cousins. The bride’s parents were afraid that she would fall in love with a poor man. Also, a girl can only marry if she is a virgin.
Over 1,200 people attend the ceremony. There are many friends and neighbors and even people that are unknown to the couple that they are seeing for the first time. The invitations come less than one week in advance. They want to make sure that it isn’t forgotten.
When the rice is about one foot high, it will start to turn yellow.
They harvest two times per year unless the land is irrigated. One might get an extra crop, but it is expensive to irrigate.
Most farmers have to borrow money from the bank or loan shark. They also have many children, and it is too far to attend school.
Schools have their own type of corruption. The teachers don’t get paid much so they will tutor after the school lets out. The ones who pay for tutoring are often given the answers. The tutored and the untutored can have the same answers, but the tutored student will be given a better grade. Education is unfairly doled out.
This generation has access to more information than their parents. The parents saw that nepotism and knowing people in the government was more important than education.
We passed a high school on teacher examination day and security was searching and frisking all the students to ensure that they did not possess cheating materials on them.
The Bat Cave
Bun had brought us to the base of a mountain. I took a picture of the back of this man as I had never seen a hair pattern on a mans’ legs like this. Not only did it resemble a leopard’s spots, most Asian men don’t have a lot of hair.
We rode a motorbike ($3) to the top to see the Killing Caves of the Khmer Rouge. They would hit the prisoners on the back of the head who would fall into the cave. Some died instantly and others were still alive amongst the dead. I overheard a guide say that the walls were red with blood.
When we came out, our motorbike drivers were gone! Finally, one returned so I went to the next stop at the highest point of the mountain where I took photos of beautiful vistas.
Soon, Rob showed up with MY driver. We aren’t sure what happened to his driver. We took a few pictures and then went to find our drivers. They were gone again. We were very nervous about getting to the bat caves in time to witness their sunset flight out of the caves.
Finally, as we anxiously watched the sun continue to slip down into the horizon, my driver showed up. I told Rob to go ahead so that he could get a good video.
While I waited, a food vendor lady offered me a plastic chair. I sat amongst police and security guards. As the sky got darker, I realized that I was out in the woods and mosquitos would soon learn that I was there.
I started to put on my repellent and motioned to the others if they wanted some. A happy line formed and I tended to each one amidst many thank you’s.
Just then our missing driver showed up.
“Where’ve ya been?” Now he doesn’t speak English. I hopped on the motorbike and, on the way, we met Rob’s driver who was returning to get me.
I made it just in time to hear gasps of people staring at the mountain. Here these insect bats come. For a while the bats flew left to the rice fields, then the direction changed to right and they flew to the lake.
I went upstairs to a better viewing point. Rob stayed below.
After about ten minutes Bun found me and said that he would wait downstairs. I asked him how long does the stream of bats coming out of the cage last. He said 45 minutes to an hour.
I finished taking my last photos and came downstairs where I saw Rob videoing. I touched him on the back, and he shook me off. I whispered in his ear that it would last 45 minutes to an hour. He smiled and shut off the video. He said that he had decided that he would keep videoing until the last bat came out, but in light of this new information twelve minutes was enough. Watch a one minute version below: