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My first full cigarette in Battambang, northwestern Cambodia

CAMBODIA | Thursday, 5 June 2008 | Views [1595]

4th-5th June 2008

Stephen and I travelled for about 9 hours by bus from Kampot in the south to Battambang to the northwest of Cambodia via the capital, Phnom Penh.

Battambang is, well in short, a small quiet town with not much to do. Nothing to do in the town itself that is. So I went by myself (with a moto driver) to visit the killing caves - one of the sites where the murderous Khmer Rouge regime killed people (who probably were under the impression they were simply being transferred from one captivity site to another - a common technique to spare the victims from fear) and disposed of the bodies.

Having walked a steep path to the back of a mountain, and followed some wrong directions, I eventually arrived at the face of a small cave. The cave was pitch-black inside and the entrance was small. So I climbed in, not sure what I would find. I felt around for my torch, which I kept in my bag, to cast some light on the inside. It was small...and there was not much to see in honesty. But it was here that I met a Frenchman who had been not far behind me, and with whom I spent the rest of the day travelling.

We moved on to the next cave, much larger. Again, we stumbled slowly inside, hesitantly finding our footing. The torch and lighter came on to see where we were. This cave was obviously much bigger, and I only managed to go a few metres into the abyss before I had to duck to avoid a bat. It quickly became apparent that the cave was filled with bats. I put off my torch, so as not to alarm them, and I slowly moved towards the entrance, trying to recall the positions of obstacles which were now in darkness. I had not been worried about bats until Stephen informed me after the Kampot dogs incident that (if I remember correctly) bats are one of the most susceptible to rabies, and therefore are capable of transmitting rabies to other creatures. I haven't verified the accuracy of that, but even so, I was nervous. So the Frenchman and I swiftly made our way out of the cave and headed to the top of the mountain for a panoramic view of the area. At the top of the mountain we came across a temple.

We stepped inside to find an old monk and an indian fellow who we assumedfrom his appearance and demeanour might be some kind of hindu shaman. The monk and the shaman first requested that we pray, which I did, and then asked for a donation, which I reluctantly gave. Neither of them spoke English or French, but we managed to sustain a "conversation" using hand gestures. They were very nosey/inquisitive and both were quite cheeky - unashamed to go through our pockets and bags; take, play and try our things; attempt to trade our belongings with their own or request donations.

The funniest moment came when the monk found the Frenchman's roll-up cigarettes. He was very curious and attempted to trade them for his own pre-made cigarettes. The shaman then had a go at rolling one up himself - but put FAR TOO MUCH tobacco in the cigarette despite us trying to correct him, and then was not able to roll it up.

Eventually all three of them lit up a cigarette in the temple. It took a great deal of persistent requests by the monk before I myself, not wanting to insult him, decided to make an exception to my non-smoker status and joined in. We all sat in the temple having our cigarettes - the first full cigarette I have ever smoked! - when some Cambodians walked in requesting to be blessed by the monk.

The monk, somewhat irritated I think, grasped some bamboo sticks tied together. He dipped them repeatedly into a pot of holy water and sprinkled all of us as he chanted. At the end of the blessing, he stopped sprinkling the Cambodians and just layered the Frenchman and I with water - he obviously thought this funny and believed that we were in need of alot of blessing.

After lunch at the bottom of the mountain, we decided to go to another nearby temple. However, a storm broke out en route. None of us were carrying waterproofs - we were all wearing a T-shirt, trousers and sandals. We were forced to abandon the motorcycles in the middle of the street and seek shelter in a tent that had been pitched in a field. The occupant of the tent, a young man, welcomed us in - he had been sleeping there in order to look after a tractor used for farming the field.

The rain continued to come down in torrents. More people, who had seen our motorcycles in the street, stopped to try and fit into the small tent as well. There were now 7 of us in the tent. The soil became saturated with water, and the field was slowly beginning to flood. When the muddy water had risen above our ankles we decided to continue to move on, expecting the weather to ease soon.

We then climbed steep steps to reach a temple that turned out not to be very remarkable. We abandoned our plans for the rest of the day in light of the worsening weather and headed back into town.

During my travels on this day, I started speaking to two girls - Laura from Holland and Sarah(?) from US - who I had kept bumping into in Battambang and during my visit to the Killing Caves. To some extent, meeting the same people is inevitable when travelling, particularly in a small town like Battambang, as there are certain well-worn routes which are used by backpackers. It turned out that we would be travelling together on the boat ride across the Tonle Sap Lake to Siem Reap the following day.

I climbed to the temple at the top of the mountain where the killing caves are located with a frenchman who I met along the way. The climb was sweaty business, as you can see from the photo, but we met this eccentric business-minded monk there.

I climbed to the temple at the top of the mountain where the killing caves are located with a frenchman who I met along the way. The climb was sweaty business, as you can see from the photo, but we met this eccentric business-minded monk there.

Tags: cigarette, killing caves, monk, temple

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