Day 46, 47 and 48: Battambang

Last year I was on a bike tour of Tasmania. A bunch of us had a rendez-vous point with two of our team who had picked up an injuries (bike and body). We needed to ride like a pack of hungry badgers to get there on time because our crip friends were arriving by motorised wheels. We woke up, skipped breakfast and got into the oomph early. It was only about 25km but it was windier than a canyon of bean-loving giants, so it ended up having at lot more push than it should have.
We arrived muscle-torn and fucking hungry. I did a quick recon of what edible supplies we had – nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, rice thins.
I’ve never been a huge rice thin fan, in fact anyone who says they’re a huge rice thin fan is either lying or buried in a psychological coffin under a mound of self-deceit, denial and masochism.
Anyway, this rice thin I had was the fucking best thing ever. It’s incredible how much a a few hours of ardour and hunger can transform your experience.

Ever since that moment I’ve looked at ardour, pain and toil with a wry smile and sense of excitement. If a 25 windy kms and no breakfast can transform a rice thin into an orgasm what would 25 windy kms and no breakfast do to a chocolate brownie and some gelato messina.

What about one and half months of sleeping, sweat laden, under the towel-sheets of mosquito ridden hotel rooms? What would that do to a night of luxury?

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Welcome to La Villa Battambang. For all my proselytising about budget hotels, street food and dirt, I love a bit of luxury – particularly French colonial luxury from the 1930s. Its just that because of my incredible stinginess I can never convince myself to indulge in it. Well Alice is here and it’s her birthday. Am I going to get a better excuse?

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We swum in the pool, read in the library, had baths, Daisy came over and we drank Pina Coladas and ate buttered bread and beef bourginoin. It was expensive and I loved it.

I had this dream that I owned La Villa in Sydney. I was living in it with my family and I had invited three friends and their families to join us – it’s really big. The kids all share the big outhouse next to the pool and us grown ups stay in the upstairs rooms above the atrium. We all have separate rooms but share the common space – the atrium, a library, a study, a vegetable garden and a room full of things to play with, maybe a home theatre as well depending on our collective desire for opulence. My friends take care of my kids and I take care of theirs. Every Sunday night we get together under the glass-roofed atrium to have dinner together – we take it in turns to cook. We grow up and old together. We go to work in different places but everyday we come home to our epicurean paradise.

Sadly, this is nearly impossible in Sydney. It’s not just the unavailability of such an unconventional living space but that society in general is designed for traditional families – the space for other models of living are only rare cracks and splinters on a pristine board.

After a marathon of relaxing inactivity, Alice and I decided we should do something.

“What should we do?”

“I don’t know.”

“Should we go see some temples.”

“Yeah. I guess so.”

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It makes me feel contrived saying so but I enjoyed Battambang’s temple scene far more than our visit to the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Maybe it’s because being hustled with forty thousand other tourists makes me feel domesticated and cow-like. Maybe there is something inherently charming about Battambang’s temples – they’re worn, quiet and colourfully salient amongst the dusty urban surround. Maybe it was just a difference in expectation. Or maybe I’m just a nob head who thinks he’s too good for mainstream shit. I don’t know. If I wrote a travel guide I probably wouldn’t include either option but I’m probably not going to write a travel guide any time soon.

Our next destination were the local markets to see if Alice could source some souvenirs and me some snacks. It was thoroughly unsuccessful. The markets here are set up like a sparse department store, only instead of glaring lights and shiny tiles there’s a faded smoggy ware and piles of odorous scraps. Usually in South East Asia markets you would find hundreds of unique pockets of local craft but here there are just suburbs of hairdressers, jewellery makers and shoe vendors. The only local stalls are the fresh produce hawkers on the sun-bleached side of the market. The snack scene was dead too – we had arrived at the dawn of a vengeful thunderstorm and the food stalls were either packing up or being ferociously blown apart by the oncoming gail.

By the time we reached the central market, closer to Daisy’s house, the storm had matured into angry motherfucker – yelling, electrocuting shit and blowing every around like some lego blocks in an erratic washing machine. I ordered some noodles and we waited it out. The most peculiar thing happened. The market is completely covered under an airship hanger like dome with the exception of an alley which runs through the skinny axis in the middle – that’s where the noodle stores are. We were watching the rain cascade down from the stall awnings and it started to hail. Suddenly, the markets, which were emptied and subdued by the afternoon heat and rain, came alive with activity. Kids, pyjama clad grannies and young women with flower hats all took turns running out into downpour to collect the hail droplets. Each time a droplet cracked into the earth there’d be a competition to who could find it and scoop it up first. Some people collected them in empty coke bottles and others just gobbled them up. Everyone watching, competing and laughing – it was joyfully ritualistic. I felt like I had been privy to a rare and euphoric religious celebration.

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After my shower yesterday I washed my self with a towel covered in fire ants. I’m now covered in itchy bites. There’s one in my belly button that rubs against itself whenever I walk. I can’t get at it.

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