I had heard of the bamboo train before, but didn't really know what it was until watching an episode of "No Reservations," a show where Anthony Bourdain (a famous chef, sometimes a judge on Top Chef if you're not familiar) travels to different countries or specific cities to try different kinds of food and dishes that are made around the world. In the Cambodia episode, he rode the bamboo train, and having skipped Battambang the last time I was in Cambodia, I knew I had to try it this time around. We've been battling quite a bit of rain, so after warning Andrew I wanted to do it rain or shine, he agreed, as long as we waited the morning shower out over coffee and breakfast at Sunrise Coffee House.
I could totally relate to this cartoon drawn on the wall of the coffee shop, which was, I have to admit, devine. Walking in, it smelled like freshly baked bread (a foreign scent to us these days) and I was in heaven eating a (freshly baked) bagel breakfast sandwich. Please indulge me in these few photos I took, again, excited by really good western food. I know, I know, you probably get to eat this all the time!
David (our tuk tuk driver from the day before) must have been busy, because his cousin showed up to take us out to the bamboo train instead. Slightly disappointed not to play along with David's jokes, but excited to ride the bamboo train, we climbed in our new tuk tuk for the "train station."
The bamboo train is essentially a 3 meter bamboo plank/platform that rests upon two train axels which are connected to a gasoline engine that rolls down old French tracks. This is how Cambodians in the countryside get from one place to another. I was looking forward to the ride mostly for who we would share the ride with- you know, those who ride it daily hauling vegetables or animals from their home to the market or something fun and likely entertaining like that. I wanted to sit next to some caged pigs and maybe have a few chickens at my feet. We must have gone at the wrong time, or more likely, we were taken to the tourist portion of the track. Nevertheless, it was still fun and it ran surprisingly fast! Andrew told me that he read that farmers would volunteer to drive after working in the fields in the morning. Our conductor was so sweet humoring me everytime I turned around with my camera. Isn't he the cutest? I also love how we got him in our "selca" (that's Korean speak for self-camera) picture.
After a 15 minute ride, we slowed down and were greeted by a handful of children out of school for the day interested in showing us the rice factory in their village. Weary of their interest in showing us (perhaps pushed by their parents?) the factory, we played along instead of sitting in the scarf shop for our ten minute village visit we were told we would have. I can now say I know what kind of rice is for people, what kind of rice is for chickens, and what kind of rice is for pigs. Seriously, each child told each of us at least twice.
Walking back to our bamboo train, the smallest asked Andrew for $1.00 for each of them. Once again, I felt so conflicted. What do you do? Do you say "No! And tell your mother not to pimp you out!" or do you aquiesce and give each child $1.00? Knowing that you are enabling child slavery in Cambodia? Or do you do what Andrew did, and fish one $1.00 bill out and make the smallest child promise to share it with everyone? When we got back to our train, their grandmother (I'm assuming) who owned the scarf shop invited us to sit down and gave us bananas while we waited. An "Ok, what's next? Do you want $1.00 for the bananas too?" feeling washed over me, until she sat back and started laughing as the little girls complimented my white skin while I offered to trade it for their beautifully dark tanned skin. And then immediately as we chatted with the girls, I felt guilty for wondering what their grandmother "wanted" from me. It's like you have to read every situation with a slightly guarded, yet completely open mind. Something that is hard to do. After Andrew asked the girls to help with his video, they told us to please tip our conductor. They told us urgently that they don't get paid and they have to feed their families. Again, the red flags hovered in the back of my mind. Like they themselves were unsure if they should be raised or not. When Andrew tipped him (I much rather tip an adult than a child) another driver seemed to tease him in Cambodian and it seemed like something of a surprise to him, but one that made him immensely happy. Which, of course, made me happy we did tip him.
We climbed back on the train and made our way back to the "station." On the way back, we slowed as we met another bamboo train with tourists on it heading towards us. The general rule of thumb is the train with the least amount of passengers (unless you are toting a motorcycle along with you) gets off, the train is disassembled, and the more full train passes by. We were told to get off (presumably because there were two trains back to back) while the tourists chided us that they "won." We all laughed and took pictures and video of the process, completely intrigued by the ease of it all. When we ran into some more trains later down the track, we got to stay on, while others had to get off. Again, I would have appreciated some more livestock to be a part of the process, but settled for watching other tourists.
And then… we went to the circus! One of my new favorite aspects of this trip is learning of the various NGOs or even businesses that provide sustainability or opportunities to impoverished people, young people to be more specific. Gecko Cafe paid all employment taxes to their employees (something that was insinuated is not often done) and other more life-skills. Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS) teaches circus, theater, art, and music skills to young people around Battambang. Two nights a week, there is a circus performance. There's a gallery for art you can walk through before the show, and a restaurant you can eat or drink in after the show, and there's a magic box for donations to help students currently in Canada pay for their studies and housing. The performance was amazing. The enthusiasm that these performers displayed was overwhelming, and their talent (and flexibility) was jaw-dropping. Andrew had a little bit of a hard time watching some of the girls morph into pretzels, while I simply wanted to join their circus by curtain call! We think we were supposed to watch a different performance than the one we ended up seeing, so we're not completely sure of the storyline, but it was great nonetheless and if you find yourself in Battambang, go to the circus!
By the way, this dude was on unicycle the whole time another dude was balancing on his head. We were in the front row, so I unfortunately couldn't get the unicycle into the shot. But seriously, imagine doing that on a unicycle!
These boys were the CUTEST. They did a few different skits that revolved around how masculine or strong they were, yet they hammed it up so it was hilarious watching them prove themselves to each other or to the girls that took the stage. This skit was something of a battle where the boys tried to prove themselves to the girls. They climbed up on top of each other, or jumped up and landed on a pair of shoulders and then tumbled into flips and somersaults onto the floor while the girls balanced on each other like pretzels. In the end the girls giggled, kissed each other and then the boys had a conniption that the girls were never interested in them in the first place.
Where we slept:
What I spent: