I started to write something more general about Sihanoukville – the last city I visited (see previous post) – but gave up after realising how formulaic my recent posts have been. They all fit the same template:
I am in [insert name of city]. It is nice / not nice. Here are some pictures of some buildings:
Flesh it out with some moaning and self-deprecation, and that’s more-or-less what I’ve written about every place I’ve been to.
Anyway, I am in Battambang. It is nice. Here are some pictures of some buildings:
That’s the abandoned Pepsi factory on the outskirts of town. It’s been closed since 1975 but a friendly, elderly security guard still watches over it and trims the hedges and lawns.
OK, don’t get too excited about seeing pictures of buildings – before we continue, here’s some more writing:
From a quick glance at the map, I’d guessed that Battambang was about five hours from Sihanoukville. What I hadn’t realised is that there are no direct roads – I had to go back to Phnom Penh and change buses. The 520km journey took a gruelling 11 hours. It was a long journey, but I was quite happy to leave Sihanoukville.
Sihanoukville was, as I mentioned in my previous post, very spread out. The beaches, city centre and port are all a few kilometres apart – and in a country with no real public transport other than intercity buses, that means motorbike men and tuk tuk drivers are everywhere and very persistent.
Most tourists go to Sihanoukville for the beaches. I spent about five minutes walking along narrow Serendipity beach before the sight of identikit, fashionable-in-1994 tribal tattoos and acres of soft, white belly made me feel nauseous. How can people be so unselfconscious? When a women looks in the mirror and sees a huge, flabby, stretch-marked gut hanging over her almost pornographically revealing bikini bottoms, how can she not cover it up? And the men are even worse – I haven’t seen that much back hair outside of a zoo.
I felt very middle-aged as I looked disapprovingly at these ‘young people’ (many of them older than me). I’m not suggesting that everyone respond to their body in the way I do – feeling like you’re serving life-without-parole in a rotting flesh prison – but there has to be a happy medium between gross overexposure and self-loathing.
My early-onset middle-age was confirmed last night as I saw in the new year by washing my socks in the sink and watching BBC World News. I shouldn’t give up on my youth so readily – I’m only 27. Maybe I should get an unfortunate facial tattoo, or try crystal meth, or buy an expensive faux-vintage T-shirt with an ironic slogan. I don’t know – what do young people do?
What they probably don’t do, is spend there time in Southeast Asia walking alone around cities taking photographs of buildings. But that’s what I’ve done – and here’s the proof:
That’s Battambang’s central market. It was designed by the architects responsible for the central market in Phnom Penh.
Battambang is the second biggest city in Cambodia but, with a population of just 250,000, it’s very compact. It was controlled by Thailand before the French demanded its return to Cambodia. The city still has a lot of French colonial buildings.
There are also some examples of the 60s New Khmer style buildings that I’ve been writing about.
I went twice to the riverfront to try to take a photo, but I’m sorry to report that the first time I went, there was a bottom-half naked homeless woman defecating on the riverbank, and the second time I went, there was a bottom-half naked homeless man defecating on the riverbank (I’m not making that up!). I didn’t feel it was a moment worth capturing for posterity.
By the riverfront there was an interesting statue funded by the Japanese government and made from gun parts.
Yesterday, when I was looking for the Pepsi factory, I walked quite far out of town. It gets very rural, very quickly. Within a couple of kilometres the houses were mostly wooden, the road became a dirt track and I passed by farms and vehicles transporting hay (see picture at top of post).
Khmer people are very friendly – as I walked through the village, lots of people called out ‘hello’ and toddlers and young children waved and looked quite excited to see me.
Though most of the homes are made of wood and quite old, there were huge, well-kept temples, mosques and churches:
That’s it. Happy New Year. Have a great 2011. I broke all my resolutions before midday, but good luck to you if you’re trying to be good.