The Road to Battambang - 11th September 2008 @ 11:27 am «   »

Location: Cambodia : The Road to Battambang

As much a destination (it turned out) as a travel route, we believe that the road to Battambang deserves a special mention. The 178km trip was suppose to have kicked off at 07:30 on Wednesday morning, but because of torrential downpours overnight and the central part of Siem Reap temporarily being transformed into a large network of interlinked swimming pools, we only left town well after 09:00.

Once on our way we quickly realised that the ‘Boulevard of broken backsides’, as the guidebook refers to it, was going to live up to it’s reputation. Being a gravel road is one thing, but this was one of the most badly maintained strips we’ve come across. Despite this being a major road link between Cambodia and Thailand, it’s rumored that an undisclosed airline group is paying off Cambodian government officials to delay plans to improve the road in order to maintain a high turnover in international flights between the two countries. Nice.

OK, so the road was bumpy, big deal, but like we’ve mentioned before, Cambodia is as flat as you could imagine. During our very limited travels through this fine country we’ve seen only the occasional blimp on the horizon, which means that when the water comes, it’s got nowhere to go. And with last night’s downpour, the water was already there waiting for us..

About 2 hours into the rattle we started experiencing ever more serious incidents of aqua planing on the muddy surface. The bus driver – even though he had a disturbingly chronic head twitch – seemed to know what he was doing and repeatedly managed to bring the slightly sideways bus back under control and re-aligned with the road.

We also seemed to be encountering more and more unfortunate drivers,  mostly heavy goods vehicles, who had not managed to pick the best line through the testing road surfaces and got helplessly stuck in the mud. Eventually we reached a point where we could go no further because of a apparent gridlocked situation up ahead. Climbing out of the bus one could see a line of cars and trucks disappearing into the distance, all trying to pass each other and work their way around stranded vehicles.

After a while a few Caterpillar road-scrapers magically appeared out of nowhere and started to clear up the mess. It was impressive to see how the drivers of the big Cats managed to pick out the busses and trucks in most peril, tug them out of the mud and skillfully skim off the worst of the mud on the road around them. After a mere three hours of watching and waiting for the road to clear, the oncoming traffic slowly started to move again and before long we were on our way, finally arriving at 17:25.

Battambang, Cambodia’s second largest city, is completely unimpressive and despite the guidebook’s use of words like ‘charm’ and ‘linger’ we were hard-pressed to find much to write about. We got a hotel, had dinner and left the next morning.

The remaining 124km to the Thai border presented slightly better conditions compared to the previous day’s trip, and we were luckily not to have any further traffic-jam incidents. The transition at the Thai border was fairly slick and within an hour or so we were on our way again. Having switched to the left-hand side of the road, and now cruising in a swanky new mini-bus (we were in a real old rattler up until then), we were doing 120km/h on a massive dual-carriage way virtually all the way to Bangkok. A starker contrast in road conditions will be hard to find anywhere else.

One Response to “The Road to Battambang”  
branree Says:

Sunday evening here. A cozy fire crackling away next to us and a howling northwester outside threatening to carry our little cottage off to meet the wizard. Loving experiencing Cambodia vicariously though you guys, although we’re not too sorry to have missed out on brokeback road. Enjoy Thailand… looking forward to seeing you soon.