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Khmer Delight Battambang
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Ek Phnom - Discovering the downstream Roads. Battambang. Cambodia.
Discovering the downstream roads
On this trip we headed down river out of Battambang on the north west bank of the Sangke. I was making my way to Ek Phnom, an eleventh century Angkorian ruin, but I knew there was much more to see along the way. First place of interest is the long abandoned Pepsi-Cola bottling plant. Allegedly Coca Cola had an officially authorized monopoly in the 60s to produce soft drinks in Thailand, so Pepsi constructed their factory here, and exported the rival product to the thirsty Thais, as well as other neighboring countries. All went well until the KR gain control in 1975, the factory closed of course, and the Khmer Rouge used it now again to make ice. The deserted building still contain machinery and thousands of bottles stacked in crates, you can freely walk into the compound where one building is used to bottle water. As expected it’s an eerie experience, and the main building still sports the Pepsi logo. As we continued we saw white disk shapes drying on bamboo racks at the side of the road. These are made from pummel rice, and used to make the fresh or fried spring rolls that are on many of the local menus. A few kilometres on is the crocodile farm, turn left at the ILDO sign. Admission is $1, and a slightly worrying encounter, worrying because the entire visit is unsupervised. We were pointed in the general direction of the entrance, up some steps, and along an elevated concrete gangway with a railing on only one side. On the railed side, lots of crocs with a couple of pools, on the other side, bunkers with straw where the crocs sleep. This was during the morning, and a few of the 170 crocs were still in the open roofed bunkers, if you loose your balance and fall in, I guess you’re a welcome feed. I’ve been told that crocs rarely attack people on land, only in the water where they feel more in control, wouldn’t want to test that. I had alligator years ago in New Orleans, and thought I’d buy a kilo to BBQ. Surprisingly the owner told us he doesn’t sell the meat, customers come to his farm and take off with a live taped up croc in the boot of their car, or on the back seat, if it’s too large then he delivers. Crocs are weighed and sold at $5 a kilo, the only meat worth eating is on the tail, the hide being dried and used to make goods.
After half an hour, we arrive at Prasat Ek Phnom ($2 entry).
The eleventh century Temple is one of the major tourist attractions of the province. It doesn’t compare with Angkor Wat in terms of grandeur or carvings, but it offers a peaceful atmosphere in the countryside, surrounded by trees and lily ponds. Strolling around the quiet peace of the Cambodian outback can be a very relaxing experience. Especially in the early morning, or late afternoon, when the sunlight filters through from the sides. Eak Phnom is a favourite picnic spot for residents of Battambang. This tradition has been in place for many years. A French mission stated in 1881 that the entire population of Battambang went out to Ek Phnom for the Khmer New Year celebrations. At the base of the temple you may find a fortune teller, for 1000 riel you put a deck of cards against your forehead, and while you concentrate on your future, you cut the cards with a small woodentwig. Your fortune is then read from that card, often related to some of the Buddha stories. An inscription on the eastern entrance states that the temple was built in 1027, in the reign of Suryavarmen (1002-1050). This dates it before the construction of Angkor Wat, making it a Hindu or Brahminist temple rather than a Buddhist one. Visiting the ruins costs two dollars. On the east side of the central sanctuary is an excellent rendition of the famous Churning of the Sea of Milk. Above that caving is a scene from the Ramayana, a weeping Sita is guarded by two female demons, the monkey god Hanuman holds out Rama’s ring as a token of his devotion. Bring binoculars if you have them, as some of the carvings are high up. Also you may be lucky, and spot the jacana, or lily trotter, a bird that has large webbed feet that allow it to walk on top of lotus leaves. In front of the ruins is the modern day Wat Ek Phnom, completed in 2003. It is a multi coloured structure that is in stark contrast to the ruined Prasat in the background. The present day pagoda has one of the most complete collections of Buddhist wall and ceiling paintings in the country. There are scenes all over the exterior, and a triple row of paintings on the interior, many of which are not seen in other pagodas. Just before entering the Ek Phnom grounds, there’s a large sign on the right which says, Welcome to Kouk Doung Community Based Eco Tourism. This resort has been open for seven months, and is run by a local women’s development NGO. It’s located about five kilometres beyond Ek Phnom, stay on the road once inside the grounds. The locals are happy to give directions, which is necessary, as there are a few twists and turns along the way, and only the one sign. Once there it’s chill out time. There is a large lake, a number of thatched gazeboes, and nothing but countryside 360 degrees. Fishing in the lake is free, but any catch must be returned, and there are some peddle boats which are rented for 5000 riel an hour. The restaurant serves such items as snails, frog, duck, chicken and fish for about a $1.50 a dish, well worth a visit. We now traveled back along the main road towards Battambang, turning left over a stream after about six kilometres. This took us to K’dul village, this where the famous Psah Prahoc (fish paste market) is to be found. You almost get a whiff of the market activities before you arrive.
This fish paste is a high protein favourite of almost all Khmers, it has a very pungent odour that puts most westerners off the idea of tasting it. Although an acquired flavour for the western palette, it’s much the same as a block of Stilton having the Khmers turning their noses up. Prahoc is produced from vats of fermenting fish, and used in all manner of ways in Khmer cooking. As well as the Prahoc, some of which is exported to neighbouring countries, there is dried and smoked fish for sale. About five hundred metres, to the right of the market on the riverbank, is an interesting family run boat building business. The hardwood fishing boats are about six metres in length. From the market we crossed the iron bridge over the Sangke River to the west side, and headed back to Battambang. The road is lined with trees on both sides, making the journey pleasant in the shade. After a few kilometres we arrived at Wat Somrong Knong. There is a genocide monument here, skulls and bones in a large glass case, much like the many others around the country. What makes this one different however, are the detailed and often explicit bas- relief's around the two tiers of the monument, depicting the fall of Battambang to the KR in 1975. The use of the Wat as a prison, and the atrocities committed by the KR. Our final stop was at a roadside sticky rice vendor (bamboo rice). The rice is pounded and heat, mixed with black beans and coconut, and then left to cool and set inside short cuts of bamboo pole. The result is an inexpensive tasty traditional Cambodian dessert. Article by Kevin Bolton. October 2013.