Photo of the Week: A Hand in Rice Production

I love this photo. I love the color, the focus, the position, but mostly I love the innocence portrayed in it.

Girl holding rice at factory in Battambang, Cambodia

 

This is the hand of my tour guide, a little girl who couldn’t have been more than 10 years old.

The bamboo train in Battambang had stopped at a ‘tourist trap’ where there was nothing to do but buy a tee shirt or a drink, and a slew of little children had run up to our group asking if we wanted to see the rice factory.

Taking me through fenced gates and over rooster filled yards, this little girl finally stopped outside a giant barn door through which dozens of bags of rice were visible, and started explaining the varieties of rice to me.

“This rice is brown and is for people to eat. This rice not good. People no eat. This rice for the pigs. This rice is for…”

She was adorable and seemed decently knowledgeable, taking me through the rice production process, explaining which machines did what, which rice came out of where and what was done with it, rambling off the information like a seasoned pro.

Girl in rice factory
“This is where the rice comes out.” The tour continues amidst ancient machinery.

I guess she was doing her part to support the community, and when she stuck her hand out, this time empty, quoting one dollar each, we did ours: we paid up.

Ever Seen Fresh Rice Noodles Being Made?

Our tuk tuk driver had pulled over to the side of the road and was now staring back at us expectantly, waiting for an answer.

Because the last ten minutes of the ride had been spent much of the same way, but with questions more along the lines of “How do you put an elephant in the fridge?” I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.

Finally, Dan sputtered, “Uh…yeah? Well…no…”
“Do you want to?”
“What?”
And off we went down the streets of Battambang.

We pulled up to the back of a house where a woman sat on a bamboo deck amidst various bowls and baskets. She was repeatedly dipping her hands into a bowl of soapy water, pulling out wet white strings and folding them neatly into a banana leaf lining.

Woman folding rice noodles. Battambang, Cambodia - YourLocalKat
Woman folding rice noodles

What we were looking at was effectively a homespun noodle making factory, and as she and her husband silently continued to work, our tuk tuk driver ‘David’ explained to us the process of making fresh rice noodles.

The first step is to grind the rice into meal. Then you want to strain the meal, clean it, and put it into bags and compress it. The next step is to cook it, and once cooked, to pound the meal until it’s sticky. Then? Knead the meal by hand until it’s even stickier.

Rice into noodles.
Rice into noodles.

Strain the sticky meal through a press into the noodle ‘shape’ that we’re familiar with (above), and then hand wash the noodles – a process with multiple bowls with varying types (or levels perhaps) of soap. Finally, rinse the noodles one last time, and fold.

The couple that we were fortunate to see has been doing this for years (I can’t recall now but I would venture to guesstimate at at least two decades), and would originally go to the local market in Battambang to sell it.

Man cleaning rice noodles.
Man cleaning rice noodles.

However, the quality of their noodles was so consistently high, that eventually restaurants and other re-sellers (like street vendors) that had become loyal customers began coming to them directly.

They now no longer have to go to the market to sell their stock of noodles but receive daily orders which they fulfill without having to leave the house.

Rice noodles!
Rice noodles!

As they seem to supply most of the customers in the area, I’m not sure how they ever sleep – the couple can sell up to a 100 kilograms of rice noodles a day!

Photo of the Week: Battambang Bats

The dark gaping slit in the middle of the cliff that was supposed to be the bat cave didn’t look too promising.

And then dusk started approaching, and something inside the darkness began to stir.

Like clockwork, at 5:45, the fruit bats fluttering within shot out, quietly and daintily and soon you could see the dotted line snaking away into the sky for miles.  It was almost comprehensible, the sheer amount of bats overhead.

Bats flying off, Battambang, Cambodia - YourLocalKatEvery evening, the bats make their way towards the floating markets nearby where they feast on a banquet of mosquitoes, and there are so many of them that it takes about two hours for them all to fly out.

How many, you ask? Oh, about EIGHT MILLION :D.

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The bat cave is at Phnom Sampeu, about 17 kilometers from the city center of Battambang, Cambodia, and the bats fly out everyday around dusk.

Off the Rails with Battambang’s Bamboo Train

Rickety Rails. Battambang Bamboo Train, Cambodia - YourLocalKat
Rickety Rails

It might not be far off the ground, or go upside down, but there’s really nothing quite as thrilling as feeling like you might fly off the rails when barreling forward at about 40 kilometers per hour with nothing holding you down.

Battambang’s Bamboo Train, or nori, was first built by the French in 1927, the rails running all the way to the Thailand border. Nowadays, while still occasionally used by locals to carry bigger loads from town to town, the train is mostly used by tourists who come to experience the one-of-a-kind ride.

But to call it a train is a bit of an overstatement really. The contraption consists of a platform constructed from sparse bamboo strips and what is possibly a tractor motor not actually attached to the wheels that it runs on.

There are no seat belts, or seats for that matter, and passengers sit on a straw mat placed at the front for comfort and stability.

The rails are appropriately rickety, thrown down and attached just haphazardly enough that the train jerks at each junction. They are bent, whether from heat, time, or construction, and add a bit of a rollercoaster swerve as you fly through, bushes and branches occasionally swatting at your limbs if you dare to extend them past the platform’s perimeter.Train motor. Battambang Bamboo Train, Cambodia - YourLocalKat

There’s only one set of rails so when two trains going in opposite directions meet, one group disembarks and the drivers disassemble the platform from the wheels, put it on the ground, remove the wheels from the tracks, push the other train through, and reassemble the first train back together.Taking the train off the tracks. Battambang Bamboo Train, Cambodia - YourLocalKatIt is a 20 minute ride to a tiny village where you’ll have ten minutes to buy a drink, a souvenir or visit a small rice factory guided by the adorable children for $1, and then you hop on and head back.Tour guide. Battambang Bamboo Train, Cambodia - YourLocalKatThe Bamboo train is definitely a tourist attraction, but is likely one of the most authentic ones in southeast Asia; unfortunately, with the reconstruction of Cambodia’s railway system, it might not be around in a couple of years. There’s really no danger of having an accident, or flying off for that matter, but rattling through the Cambodian countryside on a flimsy raft of bamboo is really a thrill you have to experience before it’s gone for good.

The Bamboo Train is a $6 tuk tuk ride from the center of Battambang. The train costs $5 per person and runs everyday during daylight hours.