Cambodia has an incredible story to tell and books such as When The War Was Over and First They Killed My Father are powerful accounts of the tragedies endured. Travelling through this country you can’t help but be touched by the resilience of the people and those real life experiences will be your tales to tell, as Intrepid’s Carole Heffernan discovers…
“Battambang is the second largest city in Cambodia and with its French Colonial architecture the city retains a very local provincial atmosphere. It is the final stop on Intrepid’s Road to Angkor Westbound and a visit here is a great way to spend the last day before crossing over to Thailand.
On the journey to Battambang we stop at two non-government organisations. The first, Phare Ponleu Selpak, gives Cambodian children from poor and disabled families the opportunity to access culture through various artistic activities, including drawing, drama, dance and circus. The circus has performed around the world and you can normally see them here at least once a week.
Phare Ponleu Selpak, meaning ‘the brightness of art’, originated in 1986 in Site 2 Refugee Camp on the Thai border. Art and expression were used by young refugees to overcome the trauma of war and then the association was formally founded in 1994 by a group of former Site 2 children.
Our next visit is to Ptea Teuk Dong (PTD), where they work to help street families and abused girls. They are currently focusing on the needs of twenty young girls who are unable to return to their families. The girls live at the centre and receive vocational training and support. The Intrepid Foundation helps fund this important project, and that means that your much-needed donations will be matched dollar-for-dollar by Intrepid Travel.
After a delicious local lunch at PTD, we set out on a motorbike tour through the countryside of Battambang. Two of our young-at-heart travellers join us by tuk tuk. Within a few kilometres of town the countryside turns into small villages filled with stilt houses and rice paddies that stretch into the horizon. We see local products in the making, including rice paper and noodles and we also visit the fish market. We stop for a cold drink and try some local specialties, snake dipped in Kampot pepper sauce and for desert, coal-burned sticky rice in bamboo.
Then it’s all aboard the bamboo train, which is known to locals as a nory. The bamboo train is a unique and creative form of ad-hoc local transportation that consists of a small bamboo cart powered by a motorcycle engine. It rides the railroad picking up and dropping off passengers, cargo, animals and motorcycles along the way. When it meets an oncoming train or nory it can be disassembled and taken off the rails in a minute or two, allowing the other to pass.
In the evening it’s off to dinner at the house of our local guide, Sambath. We are treated to a delicious meal of fish amok, chicken curry, beef with pineapple, pork with mushroom and fried eggplant. Dinner is followed by a glass of rice wine and good company. Sambath’s smile lights up the room as he talks about his achievements over the last twenty years or so. This triumph in the face of adversity is not only unique to Sambath, but a common attribute to all Cambodians that I meet on my travels. After so many years of hardship and struggle there is always a story or two to be shared over a beer in the evening, accompanied by many smiles.”
* photo by Bobbie Weeks – Intrepid Photography Competition