Battambang

Battambang is Cambodia’s second largest city after Phnom Penh, and Battambang Province probably has Cambodia’s most fertile soil. It was there that the Khmer Rouge force marched the bulk of the urban population in order to remake Cambodia into a collectivized agricultural utopia. At the time, farmers averaged 1 ton of rice per hectare, the Khmer Rouge wanted to increase it to 7 tons per hectare and use the surplus to finance their plans. They never succeeded and in the process hundreds of thousands died.

Today, Battambang is a lovely little town. The feel of the place is so much more at ease compared to Phnom Penh. There’s still a lot of poverty of course – that’s hard to avoid – but I definitely got the sense that I was in the countryside. Which, in my opinion, is my favorite part of Cambodia.

While in Battambang, we visited the White Elephant Pagoda and chatted with an achar (lay elder) who was in his seventies. The pagoda itself is a little run down, but there was sense of quiet dignity about the place. Come to think, the same was true of the achar.

Later we visited the site of a NGO working with trafficked boys and girls and two informal (squatter settlements). I have pictures, and will upload them the next time I can arrange internet access for my laptop.

At one of the informal settlements, we chatted with a woman who was 83 years old. She had come to Battambang originally to look for her family after Pol Pot time, but wasn’t able to find any who survived. So she stayed, and today she rents a place to sleep in the settlement for 1000 riel a night (US$0.25) and was on her way to work in the rice fields.

We also met with one of the settlement community leaders. She was relatively cheery, as the community had been able to raise US$500 for their credit bank. Given the small sums the residents earn on a daily basis, this really is a significant achievement.

All in all, it was a good day, and I was very happy to see this part of Cambodia before departing the next day.

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~ by Samer on September 4, 2007.

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