Travel Diary - The Bong

The way Cambodians pronounce the name of the city Battambang sounds more like 'BattaBONG' so we 'old Cambodia hands' refer to it as 'the bong.' The word apparently means 'town of the lost stick' in  Khmer, which is somehow appropriate. There's a Khmer folk tale, that i don't know, associated with the name but even without that the town gives off a slightly lost stick kinda vibe. if I was making up a folktale to fit it would probably talk about the three year old son of a god or hero who had a favourite stick and lost it. Maybe the child's mother distracted him by taking him to splash in the river, or the town marks the spot where he held his breath till he turned blue. Nothing as energetic as a tantrum would fit in though, Battambang isn't like that.

It's a dusty, flat town, surrounded by rice paddies with a brown river snaking through the middle. There isn't a big tourist scene (really the only thing to do, besides buying junk at the market, or cycling out of town, is the bamboo train, which requires a post of its own) but there is a small and tight expat/volunteer community that seems to be centred around the Handa hospital, CCT and Phare circus. There are probably a bunch of others as well, but those were the organisations that I encountered. There is good coffee (by Cambodian standards it is EXCELLENT coffee), beer in tins, fixies everywhere and even the odd attempt at a moustache but still manages to avoid being hipsterish, so I think it's a really good place for Clare to be spending a few months. If I sound like I'm vacillating between loving the place and some misgivings it because I probably am. That's Battambang for you.

Clare has her work cut out for her at Handa. I went on a tour of the hospital, had a drink with the director of nursing and got a pretty good idea of the scale of the difficulties. I think she's up to the challenge but I don't think the results will be as quick as she'd like. It was really hard leaving her there, at the beginning of such a big task (particularly because we were both rather hung-over) but I take comfort from the fact she has a really good friend there and an endless supply of some of the best pot sticker vegetarian dumplings I have ever tasted.

So I left Clare and caught the bus back to Phnom Penh, and spent the afternoon just moseying about. I didn't get a cap for Sanjay or a cheapie pedicure but I did get a great massage from a blind guy, a ruby ring so big that people will assume it's fake (I don't think it's fake, I think it's just a very low grade ruby, but I don't know much about gemstones). I had dinner and a beer at the Foreign Corespondents Club and tried to get a glimpse into the past and imagine how it might have been to drink there during the American war with Vietnam and Khmer Rouge years. I think I need to find a memoir to read!

And now I'm sitting at a table on the rather lovely rooftop bar of my hotel, the Kolab Sor. there is some inoffensive RnB playing, a delicious breeze keeping the mozzies away, a distant storm putting on a light-show and I'm just finishing my final beer of the night and nibbling salty-sweet peanuts. A little moment of perfect that I want to keep hold of.

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