Battambang, second city of Cambodia, is sleepy by comparison with tourist magnet SIem Reap. The best local temple of the Khmer Empire 20km south of here is a poor small broken reflection of the majesty of Angkor Wat. The beauty of this region is in the simple rural life of an industrious and friendly people who welcome visitors eager to observe the abundant farming, fishing and related skills and crafts.
David Beckham is a wonderful Tuk Tuk driver who took me to various sites on previous visits and he gladly took us on for 3 days of rural tours. We saw cultivation of chilli, peanut, watermelon, papaya, lemongrass and numerous fruit and vegetables unknown in the West, and sampled local wine, brandy and ginger liquor which was fun although not likely to threaten southern hemisphere wine suppliers.
The trading of fish caught in Tonle Sap and shipping to Battambang for drying, salting or making fish paste; the making and repairing of traditional vessels in the riverside boatyards; the reclamation of waste metal and fabrication of knives, axe heads, sickles and other implements; the preparation of rice noodles and rice paper; the making of giant waterpots; and the weaving of cotton and silk garments are just a few examples of what can be seen in a typical morning in the villages on the fringe of town.
Western Cambodia between here and the Thai border was the final stronghold of the Khmer Rouge until around 1998 and the legacy of landmines and killing fields is still apparent with numerous amputees and several gruesome genocide memorial sites.
Busy and at the same time relaxing, fascinating and yet poignant might summarise our short visit to this new province so far and we hope to fit in a visit to the circus and some more rural life meanderings before taking the bus back north for a final farewell to our Sisophon friends at the weekend. We have stayed in regular contact by phone although that sort of communication is far from satisfactory due to our combined language problems. At least I have now acquired a dictionary but whether progress will follow remains to be seen!