Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cricket Anyone?

On our second full day in Battambang, Gordon and I walked down the street from our hotel to Phsar Nat, the local market, and ordered a steaming bowl of noodle soup for breakfast.  Price = $1 each.  (I later heard the same woman quote of 3000 riels (75 cents) in Khmer to a Cambodian.  She didn't know that I understood her, and I smiled, knowing that even though  she was over-charging tourists, we still got a full stomach for one heck of a bargain.

Noodle soup with pork!

When we returned to our hotel, Mr.Kim was waiting to take us out for another full day of adventure.  Poor Hahn was feeling under the weather, so we all agreed to head out and let Hahn's stomach dictate whether we would go on or go back.  Along the way, Mr. Kim stopped at a roadside stand to introduce us to one of the local delicacies....fried crickets.  (Yes, you read that correctly,  CRICKETS!).  The lady scooped a few brown, leggy insects into a ladle and offered us a taste-test.  I wasn't buying, even for free...nuh-uh, no way!  Kuro was the first to take the plunge.  (He's from Japan, where they eat all kinds of stuff I wouldn't tackle, like suishi, so I figured this probably wasn't as big of a strech for him.)  Even more surprising was to see Hahn grab one of those crispy critters and chow down... Only one, mind you, since his stomach was doing loop-de-loops even before we left the hotel.  Picking legs and bony exoskeletal parts from between their teeth, they both agreed it wasn't bad.  Kind of a smoky flavour with some sort of sauce added into the pan for extra flavour.  The lady offered her ladle again, but I still passed.  Maybe next time.

Kuro takes the first bite

Hahn takes the plunge

Mr. Kim walked back to the hut where they were cooking, and came back with another delicacy - barbequed rat.  It kind of looked like a skinned out squirrel  I tore off a chunk and dug in.  It tasted just like BBQ chicken.  The tail especially was crisp & delicious. 

Mr. Kim dives in

Me (with hat hair) chowing down on the rat tail.....yum!

Satisfied with our new flavour sensations, we headed out.  A few kilometers away from our destination, Mr. Kim stopped to tell us the myth of the four mountains (hills) we could see in the distance.  It's a love story about a king who goes to pray in the forest and meets a lady named Rom Say Sok.  They fall in love and the king promises to marry her.  He returns to his kingdom, but is told he must marry royalty.  Meanwhile, Rom Say Sok becomes friends with a crocodile.  When the Rom Soy Soklearns the king has married someon else, she is very sad.  Her friend the crocodile decides to get back at the king and a fierce battle at sea ensues between the crocodile sees the king sailing in his ship.  The king throws a chicken coop at the crocodile, but the crocodile in return snaps the king's ship in two so that the sails fall into the water, and the ship sinks.  Rom Say Sok dips her magical hair into the sea, and sucks up all the water, leaving behind only the ship, the sails, the crocodile, and the chicken coop.  As the years pass, they are covered in earth and trees, and become mountains, which are now called Sail Mountain, Ship Mountain, Crocodile Mountain and Chicken Coop Mountain.  A lovely story, isn't it?  There is a statue of Rom Say Sok at one of the roundabouts in Battambang.

East meets west - Towers at the top of Phnom Sampeau 

We made our way down the road to the grounds below the Killing Caves.  A little village has grown up around there, with a few huts where people live, a concession stand and a few more vendors selling their wares, and some interesting food. 

The market below the Killing Caves

Barbequed eggs on a stick
The way up to the Killing Caves is either by a steep road or a long stairway - about 700 steps in all.  We decided to opt for a moto ride to the top for $2.50 each.  After my experience of climbing 365 steps the day before, I knew my aching legs couldn't take another 700.  We bought our entrance ticket to the Killing Caves, hopped on the back of four motos and took off up the hill. 

First set of steps up to the top

 At the first level, we stopped to see the Buddhist temple that had been seized by the Khmer Rouge and used to imprison the Cambodians.  The temple has been returned to its original purpose and once again houses many statues of Buddha, with brightly coloured murals almost entirely covering the walls.  It is presently in the midst of restoration, with scaffolding along one interior wall which is being repainted.   

We turned and walked down a pathway to the Killing Caves, passing a large painting that depicted the horrors that had occurred here. 

Entering the cave, I was not prepared for what awaited me.  It's something that deserves separate telling, so read my next blog for that.

Once out of the cave, we climbed back onto the motos and rode to the top of the mountain.  The view was spectacular.

Panoramic View from the top of Phnom Sampeau

 I walked across the courtyard to view a beautiful stupa that Lon Nol had built for his wife.  In front there are carvings depicting her life, and inside the walls and ceiling are beautifully painted.  Farther on, Mr. Kim showed us the bunkers where the Khmer Rouge army holed up and fought.  There are also two large war guns that have been left here. 

Up a few steps from the stupa, there is also another temple.  Inside a young monk laid in a hammock.   

Venerable Kim Bunleang

When I entered, he spoke to me, and we sat crosslegged on the floor chatting for a few minutes.  He told me his involved with an NGO that is building residences so that students who live in far away villages can have a place to live and attend high school.  I suppose it's only natural that Cambodians see us Westerners as 'rich' and, as happened to me once again here, I was asked for money for this good cause.  I explained politely that I was already working for another NGO in Siem Reap. There is so much need here, I wish I could help them all, and it's difficult sometimes to accept that one person can only do so much. 

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