Our boat approached the landing in Battambang. We twelve travelers jumped off the boat onto the bank a couple of feet away. While waiting for my luggage, a motorcycle driver approached as they often did at opportune times in Cambodia. He looked friendly and knew English. I believed him when he said that the other drivers here offering free rides to hotels they worked for were misquoting room rates to lure guests.
Along with Sven, a German fellow traveler I met on the long boat ride, we hopped on this driver’s transport: his motorcycle towing a two-wheel carriage, also known as a tuk tuk.
It was early evening when Sven and I found a two bed room in a decent hotel for $11.
Battambang is a second-tier tourist city. It didn’t have much flair, but it provided a genuineness I didn’t get anywhere else.
The next morning, we met out driver for a day of sightseeing. There were a couple of places mentioned in my guidebook–abandoned Pepsi factory and a crocodile farm. We started out seeing these places.
The city blocks were made up of lined, one-story buildings–restaurants, grocers, stores. Picking up speed and leaving town, we rode a few miles to a homestead just off the main road. I didn’t see any signs of crocs. I saw a house and across the driveway a patio area with a guy laying in a hammock watching TV. Our driver said a few words to him, the guy rolled out of his perch, and the crocodile farm tour began. The back side of this “patio” was actually the concrete wall of the crocodile compound.
First thing our guide did was walk us into the juvenile section. Yep, walk into. Third World croc farm means front row seats. No regulations to hold you back; no lawsuits to fear. Just watch your fingers.
Actually, walking into the tiled floor of this large, open area with pool in the center, I was a bit disappointed that the adolescent crocodiles were way more afraid of you than you of them. The dozens of them out in the sun suddenly scattered, scuttled, and wobbled comically on the slippery tiles into the depths of their pool.
I was able to get close enough to grab one’s tail. It didn’t like that.
After this pen, we went younger to see the “children” crocs.
After a few minutes staring and “awwing,” these babies allowed for nice contrast to our final pen.
For this last one though, we weren’t allowed to go inside. We climbed atop the three-feet-wide concrete dividers to look down upon the monster adults.
These were scary even from a safe distance. Huge. And I was staring at, like, 30 of them.
Getting this close to so many made their awesomeness obvious. Enormous heads, dramatic scales.
These mega-reptiles are grown, sold, and used for their skin and meat. Until then, these animals make for an incredible zoo.
Later in the day, we were back on the bike cruising on another road outside of town when we saw a gathering alongside the road. They looked to be partying in a large tent.
“Should we stop?” Sven and I mulled. Yes, we decided.
“Stop!” we yelled to our driver over the roar of the motorcycle.
While walking up to the crowded tent, an arm with beer in hand popped out from between two folds in the tarp. A beverage welcome-offering for Sven. He declined, though later would accept. We were at a wedding party.
People wanted pictures and were honored to have us take part in their event.
I wasn’t too surprised that they welcomed us. People here are excited to see Westerners. I considered the fact that most Americans would likely not welcome foreign strangers to their wedding. But I dropped the thoughts to also allow myself the chance to just go with it.
The families wanted to feed us, but we didn’t want to keep our driver waiting. (Interestingly, he didn’t want to enter, because he didn’t know this family.)
But we could dance! Music played and a few were already moving. Sven and I joined, and we all started a circle of folks going round and round as they do here.
They were honored to have us, but how could I not walk away with the honor being all mine? They let me experience a culture so far away in such an intimate way.
And I learned more so the differences and the commonalities we all share.
Next week, I rent a bike of my own and visit a local school.