All posts by Lorselle

Bats, Tracks and Lok Lak in Battambang

Editor’s Note: Check out the adventures of Mel & Alex in Battambang below! Bats, tracks, and lok lak! All content and photos are from the contributor.

Follow Mel & Alex on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Or read about their adventures at their blog.


It’s said when you meet someone you only have 7 seconds to make an impression, and we’ve found the same to be true to an extent of the places we’ve visited. Cambodia impressed as soon as we cross the border, thanks to the friendly immigration officer at Phsar Prum who sat with us until a taxi became available, chatted with us about Khmer history and treated us to a beer. So it was with high hopes we arrived in Battambang, 100km East of the border, for our first sample of Cambodian hospitality.

We had booked a couple of nights at Shang Hai Guesthouse at just $5 a night, and as a result we were expecting $5 worth of comfort. Instead we were treated to complimentary water, toiletries and a TV, in a clean, spacious en suite room. We were chuffed and immediately booked a third night, and later on a fourth.

We spent a few days just soaking up our first taste of Cambodian culture and making plans for the rest of our adventure. Whilst Battambang is in fact the country’s second most populous area (after Phnom Penh), you wouldn’t guess it. Not a major stop for most visitors, it’s blissfully untouched by the influence of tourism and high-rise development, subsequently retaining charm by the bucketload.

Heading out to explore, we found the atmosphere was wildly different to that of many other towns we have visited on our travels. Say goodbye to the pushy sales tactics of Tuk Tuk drivers and stall owners. There’s a friendly, community vibe; adults are quick to smile at you, while children give a big wave and English “hello!”.

With a walking tour route in the excellent free Battambang Traveller magazine, we spent an afternoon getting to know our surroundings. From Street 101 we headed South-East, discovering pretty Wat Pipetharam and bustling Psar Nath market, selling all manner of clothes, fresh food and baked goods (look out for the donuts!). Continuing along Sangker River before cutting down sleepy lanes and alleyways, we found 2 1/2 Street with its shop houses and restaurants, many of which still retain their original French Colonial architecture. Journey further still and you’ll uncover disused, but nonetheless interesting art deco cinemas, and the grand old Lord Governor’s Residence, Sala Khaet. All of these sights, and more between, give Battambang a warm, unspoilt character that had us captivated.

Working up an appetite, our first taste of Khmer cuisine was well overdue. On the first night we had played it safe, with a gorgeous Mango and Cashew Nut Salad and Burger and Chips at The Lonely Tree, which along with many of the restaurants in Battambang work with NGOs to get young, vulnerable people off of the street and into a trade. This time we enjoyed a delicious Noodle Soup and Lok Lak, consisting of marinated meat accompanied by rice, served with lime and black Kampot Pepper. A very high standard had been set! There are plenty of expat-owned eateries to cater to Western tastes, along with local success stories, including a student who has set up a very successful Khmer Noodle Stall between the market and the river, selling the most amazing beef stew.

The food is a little more expensive than its street food counterpart in Thailand, but that is more than evened out by the price of accommodation. Beers are dirt cheap (cheaper than coke or even water in some instances!) and any hour is happy hour somewhere in Battambang. We were also intrigued by the 50 cent rice wine at Buffalo Alley, but less so by the variants flavoured with Tarantulas and Snakes!

While it’s easy to get caught up by the delicious restaurants and dangerously affordable bars, there is also plenty to see and do in the surrounding area, so we hired a Tuk Tuk and driver for the day for $20. Olah the driver was very friendly with great English, and was keen to share his knowledge. He suggested we head to one of the temples via some local villages, so we could meet the locals and learn about their trades.

First up we visited a family who mould huge clay pots for local families and businesses. They can hold up to 900 litres of rainwater and typically sell for just $25-35. They had a well rehearsed strategy which enabled them to work on three pots at a time, before moving the pots into the sun for the clay to set. Next Olah stopped at a temple, and called us over to try bamboo sticks containing sticky rice from a vendor outside. They showed us how they cooked the rice with coconut milk and soy beans in a hollow stick of bamboo. The vendor then shaved off the burnt strips of bamboo and used them as kindling for the fire, and showed us how to crack into the tube and to use a square of bamboo as a spoon. The rice was simple; slightly sweet and wholesome and it was fascinating to see the resourceful production, with noting going to waste.

The sampling of typical Khmer snacks didn’t end there. Olah took us to visit two ladies cooking and drying rice pancakes in the sun, which made a deliciously crispy spring roll once fried. Similarly, our next stop was to meet a woman who sliced bananas into thin strips, placing them on bamboo stretchers and dried them in the heat of the sun. The end product was fantasticly sweet and sticky, yet crispy snack. They were so good we ended up buying another packet to take on the road!

Our taste of Khmer village life complete, we made our way to Ek Phnom temple, built in the 11th century. There are several ancient temples in the vicinity of Battambang, Wat Ek Phnom and Wat Banan the more frequently visited. Judging from the photos we saw of the latter, if you are looking to check one of them out you may be better off going there, as Ek Phnom is more of a ruin than a pristine example of a Hindu religious building. While once it surely stood tall and imposing, these days there is far more rubble than there actually is temple, and it is difficult to gauge what it was like in its heyday.

Bamboo is used for far more than just cooking in Cambodia, and after lunch we headed to take a ride on the prolific Bamboo Train. The route starts about 3.7km East of Battambang, and the track runs 7km to O Sra Lav, with the train (or ‘norry’) powered along by a 6HP gasoline engine. We weren’t sure what to expect, as some people seemed to love it, while others worried they’d be thrown from the cart! Admittedly it’s a pretty rickety ‘norry’ of bamboo you sit on, but we figured if it can carry huge mounds of goods back and forth it should just about hold us.

With a couple of pillows to sit on we climbed aboard and were on our way. Being so close to the ground you felt every bump, and we were glad for the pillows to spare us bruises, and admittedly some of the track had clearly seen a lot of use. Still, it was hardly the death-defying trip some of the reviews made it out to be and we felt quite safe, if a little uncomfortable. One issue did become apparent on route; two way traffic on one set of rails. While our (over-elaborate, it seems now) trains back home would become completely unstuck by this, the driver simply cut the engine, asked us to get off and lifted the bamboo norry, then wheels straight off the track so his colleagues could chug through. At the end of the track are a couple of stalls and restaurants set up by local villagers where you can stop in for a drink, or purchase all kinds of souvenirs before boarding for the return trip.

The friendliness of the local people, and the light-hearted nature of many tourist activities, sometimes feels at odds with tragic recent events in Cambodia, as much here as elsewhere. We feel it would be remiss of us to visit a place and not seek to gain an understanding about its history, especially during the Khmer Rouge period, not least out of respect for those who had to suffer through it. Indeed, with some sources quoting numbers as high as three million people murdered at the hands of Pol Pot’s regime, its nigh on impossible to avoid evidence of the barbaric atrocities which took place.

During our day trip Olah stopped off at Samroung Knong temple, where 10,000 people from the Battambang area were imprisoned and eventually killed. He also took us to Phnom Sampeau, otherwise known as the Killing Caves. Peering into depths where thousands of people were thrown to their deaths, and seeing the skulls they have managed to recover is a harrowing experience. There is a chilling stillness in the air, as if nothing has dared to live in the cave since, and equally heartbreaking is the matter of fact way people have come to describe the atrocities inflicted on them, their parents and grandparents. This would not be the last example we saw of the horrors of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

Phnom Sampeau was also our destination for sunset. Home to an alleged 6.5 million Wrinkle Lipped Bats, tourists arrive en masse to witness their nightly evacuation of the hill’s innards. We perched beneath one of the caves with a drink and waited. After about half an hour, triggered by a cue unseen by us, the bats made their move as a massive unit. Within seconds, there were thousands heading off into the distance in perfect plume, as far as the eye could see. They just kept coming and coming, and while initially we may have been skeptical about there being so many bats in one place, by the time we left, when there was still a steady stream of exiting bats, we were convinced. They head to the local fields and farms to feed on small insects, and then back to the caves before morning. It was a spectacular sight and a brilliant end to our tour.

We packed a huge amount into our day with Olah, alternating between exhilarating, enlightening and horrifying. But it only goes to show how much there is to discover in Battambang. We departed after staying twice as long as intended, having been struck by how humble, generous and welcoming the Khmer people are. What an excellent first impression of this beautiful country.

Mondulkiri: A wildlife experience

Editor’s note: Below is another adventure submitted to us by Paola Vega (she’s on Instagram, too!), documenting her adventure in Mondulkiri. Follow

Have a story to share? Send us your story and if we like it, you can get a free ticket. 1 Story = 1 free ticket!


The eastern region of Cambodia is a place unknown to many. Yet becoming more and more popular. Mondulkiri province is now an upcoming backpackers’ destination full of wildlife and nature.

I took a mini-van from Phnom Penh directly to the town of Sem Monorom. I then walked to the office of an Elephant Sanctuary that I contacted prior my arrival. My intended purpose of coming here was to volunteer a few days and this place offered a great deal.

The first night I had to spend it at a really nice hotel called Nature Lodge. Completely immersed in the essence of the region; wide open green spaces, beautiful sunsets and clear night skies. The next day the “Mondulkiri Elephant and Wildlife Sanctuary” welcomed me with their arms open. The first two days I followed them on their trekking and elephant tour just to get to know the whole organization better and to grasp their essence. After, I spent three days helping at the sanctuary with various projects.

The place is a real paradise for the elephants, they have a massive land where they can roam freely, and the best part is: they are not chained or ridden on. They really take care of them at the sanctuary. The visitors have the chance to feed them and then bathe them. And if you do the two-day program you even get to sleep one night at the sanctuary in a nice jungle-hut. A really unique experience.

Also, the jungle trek is a great way to see more of this beautiful region. There are many waterfalls and plantations around worth seeing. And at the end of the day, you feel so accomplished for walking 20k up and down hills.

I had a great time during my stay in Mondulkiri and I will recommend it to anyone who’s in Cambodia. If you are a nature and animal lover this place is for you!

Phnom Penh to Koh Rong Samloem

Editor’s note: Below is another article by our favorite traveler, Hugo! Check out his recount of his adventure from Phnom Penh to Koh Rong Samloem below.


I am living in Phnom Penh since 6 month now and I try to leave the capital at least once every two weeks to take some fresh air, this time: direction Koh Rong Samloem! Thus, with my friends, we left Phnom Penh with a night bus and arrived in Sihanoukville early morning. That was the 4th time I was going there, as this is really close to Phnom Penh, however I still don’t really like Sihanoukville. This city is for me neither nice nor beautiful, this is just the only way to reach the islands that are great, this is why I am not staying there, even for a night!

Once arrived we took a Angkor Speed Ferry boat with BookMeBus, the only boat company I never experienced, and it is definitely the best company to go the islands! They were exactly on time, their staff is really nice, they give you fresh water, boats are new; they have a great and clean open-rooftop, toilets and brand new life jackets for everyone. Furthermore I learned that they are the only one allowed to stop at Long Set Beach in Koh Rong, which can be really useful for those that wants to arrive directly there.

With my friends we arrived in Koh Rong Samloem and we booked at Freedom Island Bungalow for one night. Those bungalows are cheaper than many other in Saracen Beach (between 25-30USD) and are really great, big beds, clean bathroom and a nice terrace to chill with a drink at the end of the day. Those bungalows are located on the right part of the beach, so you don’t have the fits in the white sand, but place is quiet and not crowdie at all. Therefore I recommend those bungalows for people that want calm, clean and cheap place and don’t care that much on walking 3 minutes to reach the big Saracen Beach.

First day, we went to Sunset Beach on the west side of Koh Rong Samloem. To go there you need to take a tiny path that cross over the jungle and you arrived in this beach with transparent water & you are almost alone, what asking for more? After an afternoon spent there, we came back to our bungalow and spend a night drinking mojitos and playing cards, such a great time when your daily life takes place in Phnom Penh.

The second day, we had to leave our incredible bungalow because they were full… We finally ended up in the Hostel by the Sea, the worst hostel I ever experienced in Cambodia… You pay 10 USD for one bed in dorm, you have only one fan for 4 beds, a small disgusting blanket and I am not sure they ever cleaned the sheets… Showers? Can we call that a shower? I am not sure… They are located on the middle of their garbage and it’s just a narrow trickle of smelly and disgusting water not available all day… Finally, after seeing their kitchen, eating there is something you should avoid. I am used to go to hostel and guesthouses and I am never looking for high standard as I always go for the 3-6 USD dorms, but when you pay 10USD for a dorm, at least you want a fan and a proper shower, even more on the sea side. However, as everything was booked we had to stay there.

We left quickly Saracen Beach (which is a bit too big for me), to reach Lighthouse at the south of the island, the walk is a bit more that 1h but is really great and once you arrived you can reach an amazing beach where no one goes, we stayed there playing cards, fishing crabs, reading, incredible! I warmly recommend you to go there, but be careful there is nothing to eat there, we bought some water in the houses nearby but you can’t find anything else.

We finally end up this amazing weekend by a beach BBQ, costly (8USD) but really great! We came back with the same company, Angkor Speed Ferry and reached Sihanoukville, our weekend was really great and I will definitely go back to Koh Rong Samloem!

Hugo

How BookMeBus will revolutionize transportation in Cambodia

Editor’s Note: Below is the coverage of BookMeBus’ PR Guru, Tharum of the Bus5 event held last February 18, 2017.


A startup founded by a group of young Cambodians, BookMeBus takes a small pride to transform the way travellers and passengers book their bus tickets with a few clicks.

Last week’s event “Revolutionizing Cambodia’s transportation using technology,” a marriage of the best of both worlds happened when BookMeBus collaborated with pioneering mobile payment Wing to integrate the payment solution into its billing system, which aims to make it really easier for the bus companies as well as bus ticket buyers.

In her opening remarks at the event, Her Excellency Koy Sodany, under-secretary of state of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, told the invited-only participants that “moving to digital and online is crucial. It’ll take the nation to the next stage. Let’s take a look at people in our neighboring countries, they’re technology and the Internet to book tickets. It’s an advancement. I believe we’ll also adopt this new technology.”

bus5 bookmebus koy sodany

Chea Langda, BookMeBus CEO, said that “this technology has been proudly developed by young Cambodians not to compete with bus companies, but to complement them. We want bus operators to take more advantages from the use of technology. Also, Cambodia would be well-prepared to take on the high growth of the number of tourists visiting Cambodia.”

bus5 bookmebus chea langda

In addition to this, BookMeBus’s Chief Technology Officer Ly Channa also demonstrated its newest brainchild, Bus5, probably the world’s last-minute bus ticketing app. Bus5 will make it possible for both bus operators and passengers to connect in real-time for booking bus tickets, even 5 minutes before departure time.

bus5 bookmebus ly channa

Some key points during the event:

Ministry rep stated:

The ministry of public transport embrace the use of the technology the improve its service delivery. The most recent example is vehicle registration, getting vehicle plate and license.

Wing CEO added,

Wing payment solution and BookMeBus billing system for bus operators is marriage of the best to for Cambodians.

BookMeBus also stated,

BookMeBus is here to complement, not to compete. We want to continue to make easier for anyone to access bus tickets.

Regarding Bus5: It’s like Alibaba’s real-time marketplace for bus operators and customers.

Some tweets during the event:

 

 

What’s up with Bus5?

Bus5 is the newest brainchild of BookMeBus. The Bus5 app is a bus ticketing application that allows travelers to purchase or book bus tickets at the last minute.

Bus5This bus ticket application makes it easier for travelers to find the bus schedules and bus operators that are available within 24 hours.

The best thing about it? You can buy bus tickets in 5 easy steps – in 5 minutes!

What’s behind the name, “Bus5”?

Bus5 simply means having bus tickets in 5 steps and 5 minutes – or less!

What to expect:

  • Route search using 5 steps
  • View search results
  • Viewing company profile and amenities
  • Get an eTicket within the app that is accepted by participating bus companies
  • Buy bus tickets very quickly

But wait, there’s more to Bookmebus’ Bus5! More to come soon!

Subscribe HERE in order to be the one of the first few to hear updates and news about Bus5.

Many thanks, and speak soon!

BookMeBus Team