For some months now we have been talking about taking part in a bicycle tour in Battambang. I started preparations around the time we booked…back in November….though unfortunately the cycling prep didn’t really continue once Christmas came and then I started boot camp. I’m sure the boot camp helped my overall fitness improve considerably…but it didn’t help my specific need for cycling.
Our tour was scheduled to start at 7:30am with everyone meeting at Kinyei Cafe on Street 1.5 for coffee at 7am. I was a little worried about the quality of the bikes initially, but soon realised the ones out the front were not there for us.
We also took the opportunity to have breakfast here…maybe it was nerves, but something made me feel like ordering vegemite on toast…I don’t usually eat vegemite at home unless I’m feeling a bit unwell or really, really tired (and cannot think of anything easier). It was just what I needed today though!
After everyone had arrived we were fitted to our bikes and provided with helmets and water bottles…a very short practice ride about 10m down the street to check the working order of the bike and we were off… “We” consisted of David, Amanda and I plus a couple from Belgium; an Australian girl from Jindabyne and her friend from the UK
We had originally booked online for the full day tour that included lunch, but it was going to be an extremely hot day so Smy, our guide recommended that we all only do the half day instead (that sounded wise to us).
The first leg saw us cycle through the middle of town to get onto some of what are considered back streets for 7km to the home of a family that makes rice paper. It was interesting to see and hear about the process and learn that this brother and sister team made around 1800-2000 sheets per day…and received approx $20 in total for their 14+ hour day…it makes me feel bad for buying the cheaper factory made papers from the supermarket…but these don’t get exported so there isn’t much I can do about that. There is a risk that the factories in Thailand and Vietnam will take over everywhere…though hopefully not before they are ready to retire themselves. The brother has a wife who cares for the house and does the cooking the for family, which includes their two children. The kids were at school today…they don’t want the kids to make rice paper for a living…
Then visited a fellow that operates a rice wine distillery. We saw the ingredients that go into making the yeast; where he cooks the rice and then begins the fermentation process. In what is quite a small room, the also has two stills that boil the fermented rice and create the steam that becomes the wine. It is initially about 80% proof and then reduces….which he then blends to create the finished product which is 35%. The wine sells for about USD1.50 per litre. He seemed a very happy man!
Back on the bike, my bottom and hands were starting to get a bit tender…but on we went cycling about 3km before pulling over on the edge of the dirt track to have a look at some fruit trees growing on side of the road… The fruit has no english name but in Khmer it sounded like Mae Brang. They are small (about the size of a small egg), orange/green colour with skin, flesh and seed somewhat like a mango. You can eat the skin, it is a bit thinner than than a mango…the flesh tastes like a mix between mango and lemon. Apparently there are a couple of varieties with subtle variations, mainly the colour with one type being much more sour than the other…the ones I tried were all the sweeter type!
Another 2km on we pulled up at a shed on the edge of the river. Here they make fish paste. Having experienced the unique scent that comes from fish that is not kept cold, Amanda was reluctant to go in…so we left David to check out this one and rode our bikes over the bridge and waited in a shady spot on the far side. From here we could see the shed the rest of the group were exploring, but couldn’t smell it…
After our rest, the group caught up with us and we all went on for another 2km until we stopped for a break at someone’s home. We sat at a large table underneath the house and were served fruit platters and whole coconuts with a straw.
Amanda had been going really well to here, but the heat was starting to affect us all and she was starting to feel a bit off… so Smy arranged a tuk tuk to come and pick us up. I had thought the tuk tuk was going to follow along with the bikes, but as it turned out he had somewhere else to be (really soon) so he was taking us straight back to the Kinyei Cafe to wait for the others. I was initially a bit disappointed, but when Smy explained the next stop was the Killing Fields which I wasn’t really wanting to see, then I wasn’t upset at all.
Due to it being the dry season this leg of the ride would not be as inviting as it would be when the rice paddies are lush and green…David continued on, he was enjoying the ride very much…and of course kept taking photos too..
We were quite cool and relaxed when the others arrived back…thoroughly exhausted, the last leg had been hot, long and emotional…to be honest I’m glad a missed it… After sitting for a little while, David was ready to move on and it was time for lunch. We had been told about a new cafe that had been opened nearby which employees local staff from disadvantaged backgrounds…that gives it’s profits to the Cambodian Children’s Trust…so we went to check it out.
Jaan Bai means Rice Bowl…it was air conditioned and very modern, with power points at each table and free wifi of course…the menu looked good too, so we ordered lunch and settled in. We were the only guests other than a lady who seemed to be there for the air con only. Fresh fruit juice is on most menus, but here you could see it being turned from a piece of fruit to juice, and you were able to select up to 3 fruits to be combined…I had apple, pineapple and orange…it was sweet and refreshing! For lunch itself, I ordered the traditional Khmer sandwich ‘nom pang sach’ with chicken…perhaps I was really hungry or maybe because it smelled and tasted so good….but this is all that was left when I remembered to take a photo.
We were all pretty beat and the heat was still rising, so we headed back to the hotel pool which was now in the shade. We swam and rested, blogged, worked and chatted to other guests, including a couple from NZ that we had met at dawn at Angkor Wat.
Eventually it became time to eat yet again. We had heard that Cafe Eden down along the river was good, so we strolled down…apparently they are good, too good…because even in the off season it is recommended to book if you want to sit upstairs in the air conditioning…it was too hot to sit downstairs as there was no breeze at all…so we didn’t stay. Instead we went back to Jaan Bai again (it had good air con earlier)…this time we were definately not their only guests…the place was packed though thankfully someone had just finished so we were able to take their table. There were a couple of large groups, but once they had finished their meals they left quite quickly and it was back to a lovely comfortable level with tables filled with small groups and couples. Despite the crowd, the service was prompt and effiecient. A different menu was on offer for dinner. I ordered the salt and pepper squid which was very tasty…David and Amanda both ordered the pork belly bao with slaw which was also very good.