Battambang is technically the second-largest city in Cambodia, but it feels more like a small town. Battambang is 280km by road from Phnom Penh and is the only major town on National Route 5 to the Thai border. The focus of Battambang is the Sangker River alongside some of Cambodia’s best-preserved colonial architecture and surrounded by Angkorian temples. I understand from history that ownership of Battambang has passed between the French, the Thais, and Cambodia for hundreds of years and certainly the influence of all three is significant. Having said that, the infrastructure is most definitely lacking with little foreign food products and goods, and little nightlife.
Travel is by TukTuk for us, out to our projects in the morning around 15 minutes drive, and shorter drives into town for supplies. Zachary is in love with the TukTuks. He has a counter from the dollar shop in New Zealand and is counting every TukTuk he sees on every trip. I dread the day we lose that counter.
TukTuk journeys are for observing. These journeys are each and every one a sensory overload – the sights, smells, the noise. Watching the day to day life unfold around you. Each day you see something you hadn’t noticed before as you look past the obvious. No-one can read maps, all directions are based on nearby landmarks which is normally a shop or a market. Our projects are out in the villages and the transition alone from town to village is fascinating. The children chase the TukTuk on bikes and wave to the boys.
Tuktuk, now the school bus!
We are staying about 5-10 minutes from the city centre in a small room opposite the main volunteer house for the projects we are working with. It is mainly young students on the projects, in fact not all that many – there are around 10 of us this first week and all with a slightly different focus between business interns, medical, gardening and teaching. The accommodation is basic to say the least, in fact basic is being rather kind to what Big O refers to as a prison cell.. I can’t disagree with him really for there are solid doors locked by padlock, bars on the window and a bathroom which we refer to as the “swill room”. Everything is done in the bathroom, and without the luxury of a flushing toilet or even a sink. Drinking water is provided by way of a large water cooler bottle, minus the cooler. We have two rooms next to each other and we have split them into dormitory and day room.
Team Legge Dormitory, Battambang, Cambodia
Our Bathroom! Battambang, Cambodia
Sleeping is not easy, actually its awful. It is so hot and the noise of the fans sends you a bit crazy in the middle of the night. We have to keep our door ajar for Oscar’s fear of locks and doors has taken a turn for the worse since arriving here. The beds are hard, with a 2 inch foam mattress making me feel like a real old lady as I attempt to turn during the night. The boys have coped well. The first two nights were awful, and we shared the double bed together as they quietly sobbed themselves to sleep. Thank goodness for rescue remedy, a large dose all round.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are in the volunteer house. Breakfast supplies are very french tasting baguettes with jam. Boys are missing butter but of course there is little point, it would melt in seconds. Precious dollars spent on fresh milk, cereal, and apple juice to provide familiarity to the start of the day and line stomachs for the malaria, vitamin and probiotic pills.
Lunch and dinner are same same but different – traditional Cambodian food. I have to say it is tasty and delicious, not spicy at all and not the same lashings of oil or ghee and coconut milk found elsewhere in Asia. The most important part of the meal is rice, and then there are three or four other dishes which usually include a soup. Each dish is mainly vegetable with small pieces of meat or fish. Always plates of fruit for dessert which has included papaya, pineapple, dragon fruit, watermelon, apple, banana.
Boys are struggling with the food although each day sees a small incremental step towards a full plate of food. The rice is no problem, but the sauces are taking some getting used to. Gentle persuasion and bribery to try something new each day, months feasting on rice only will probably do them little good. The heat is so intense there is little craving for snacks, water always being a priority. However salty crackers and chocolate wafers seem to keep the wolves at bay until the next mealtime.
I knew it would be hard to acclimatise, but it is way harder than I could’ve imagined. The heat is intolerable and we await the rains. It is dusty, dirty, hot. Our accommodation is tough to handle. There is nowhere to sit, and no connectivity making the evenings long, hot and slow. We obviously have plenty to read and research, but you can do it either sitting up or lying down, and only if a fan is within inches of your body.
Our bodies have survived midges for now. They will arrive with the rains and we have the nets ready for our beds. The only irritant is heat rash which has appeared all over the boys little bodies. So as I write this we have found a haven. Battambang Resort. We have negotiated a cheap rate to come and use the pool and hang out. We all feel like it is Christmas Day as we ration our intake of cool lime sodas and ice cream and await another week.