Miserable: Last Minute Trip To Battambang, Cambodia
I was walking the streets of Siem Reap, Cambodia on a very hot day (still in the rainy season though). I met a Belgium friend, Amaury, who was seated in a ticket kiosk. I approached to say ‘hi’ and found out that he plans to leave the very next morning by bus to Battambang. “Where? Who? Why?” I asked. Turns out, Amaury was the god father of a local orphan boy and had emotionally “adopted” the boy, who lives in an orphanage in Battambang, with his 4 siblings. Committing to this project, Amaury travels to Battambang approximately every month, for a weekend, to spend time with this child. I adore that!
So without thinking a lot about it, I got excited to tag along. And, the more exciting news was that my son, Orazi, who was so much less excited with the idea of being away from me; wanted to join too. So now, the boys, both my son and I, are planning this last minute , spontaneous trip to Battambang, Cambodia. So perfect; but, it didn’t end up that way, at all! (Read till the end, for the super gushy emotional parts and some truly fantastic photos)
Back to my story, so when I met the whole Klaf gang for lunch in our favorite local restaurant, I announced my dear wife Gabi that I am taking the weekend off, and taking our son with us. I pounded my fist on the table and just told her, just like that. The real version is that I humbly asked her permission. (You know the joke: “I am the boss in my house and… I have my wife’s permission to say so!” Yeah, that one.)
The next thing we know, I have two tickets in hand to Battambang!
The Bus Ride to Battambang
The bus ride from Siem Reap to Battambang went through without any incidents. This minivan came to pick us up 45 minutes late, from our home, the Garden Village Guesthouse. The weird part was that the minivan was only a shuttle service which then took us to a two-story bus (Orazi go soooo excited by that), which then took us to another regular bus, which would take us to Battambang. (Confused? So were we.)
Alternatively, I learned that you can take the daily ferry which departs from Siem Reap at 7:00 am. $20-$25/person which is more expensive compare to the bus we took for only $5/person. It’s a scenic, 6-8 hour journey across the Tonle Sap and along the Sangker River in the wet season, but it can be much longer in the dry season due to low water levels. On the other hand, the bus ride is 4 hours, at most. We prefer the bus choice.
Battambang At Night
I cannot say that Battambang was the highlight on my trip. To be honest, I found this place quite boring.
Most of the city shuts down pretty early, and we found ourselves with very dark allies all around, and not much to see besided the local night market. At 8 pm, Orazi and I located one, and only one one open, cheap restaurant where the low price reflected the quality of the food. On our first night, Amaury, took the 5 orphan siblings to a local circus with admission of $8. Local kids are free go free. We did not go. Looking back, I wish we had. Amaury later told us it was amazing, and the money supports a good cause. Oh well, next time.
After arriving, we booked ourselves into a cheap guesthouse with very clean rooms. It was here we committed Critical Mistake Number Two: was not taking a room with a/c. It was so hot and humid all night! We died! The turning ceiling fan provided us with a whiff of come-and-go air as it turned it’s useless circles in the room. With every full turn, we got maybe 3 seconds of direct air.
If you do get there, I suggest you take room with a/c as it was impossibly difficult to sleep in this condition. It was for Orazi and Amaury and I anyway.
The Local Market
Before getting there; Amaury, Orazi, and I went to the local market. The local market in Battambang is a great place to visit. We bought many treats and fruits for the kids in the orphanage. My favorite treat was the huge bag of sweet fired banana chips for only $1.50. (We see them in Siem Reap for four times as much.)
The absolute highlight of this visit, without a doubt, was the visit to the orphanage. We had a blast!
From the local market, we walked straight to the orphanage. There we found 5 very-overjoyed, adorable children waiting for us at the gate. They were all so excited to see Amaury! I told him that what he is doing is so meaningful, so powerful, and important. He is really changing the lives of these kids. The visit left on me and on Orazi a great mark. To see these little faces enjoying the few things they have and the little they get; appreciating a monthly visit from someone who once was a stranger. Really humbling.
So where did things go wrong? Oh yeah.
The Miserable Part (Gabi Joins Us Here)
Well, Kobi forgot to mention to you a few tiny details of what happened. We were miserable.All of us. And it’s so funny cuz there is no reason to be, but we were. We really truly were.
Orazi broke down at dinner that first night about how badly he missed his mom and sisters. Orazi and Kobi didn’t sleep all night. They sweat as if we were thrown into a pool. The girls cried and when we had some normal-family-go-to-bed-or-I’ll-kill-you moments, Solai and Dahnya broke down, idolizing Kobi’s angelic parenting skills as opposed to my cruel, evil ways.
I think I can explain it best by sharing a few emails we sent to each other during our time apart.
The girls to Kobi and Orazi their first night out:
dahnya says “i love you so so much. tell orazi that i miss him and that i can’t be without the two of you. now i really know that without boys, there is no family. i miss you sooooo much. a lot of kisses and hugs and let’s make a call on skype.i can’t believe that you even left. love a lot, dahnya.”
solai says “אני מתה אליך ואני כלכך מתגעגעת שאני בוכה כמה שאני מתגעגעת אליך ולאורזי. הוא האח הכי טוב שלי בעולם. ואתהת אני מתה אליך. אתה האבא הכי מפנק בעולם” (translation: i’m crazy about you guys and i miss you so much that i am crying. i miss you and orazi. he is the best brother of mine in the entire world. and i love you and am crazy about you. you are the best day, the most ‘spoiling me’ dad in the world)
Orazi, our son to Gabi and the girls:
hi Ima! Dahnya! and Solai!,
I miss you all very much. I really want to come back. when we set in the restaurant, i cried and told aba that i want to come back. I miss your back scratch you give me. and aba said that if tomorrow morning i won’t have fun, so we will pack our bags and leave back to Ima Dahnya and Solai. bye. I will miss you a lot
Kobi to Gabi:
i has sleepless night so i wrote a new post about this visit. i am out to see if i can buy tickets back today.
And, in the morning, Gabi to Kobi:
oh my love. why come back today? are you guys so miserable without us? oh my god, how cute are you two? what’s up love?
i went to bed at almost 3am. i’ll admit, it is hard for me to go to bed without you. i like you a lot kuba. i like you a lot a lot. i think it is crazy that one minute away from each other, and we all miss each other. sooo cute.
so, you guys are really miserable without us? i love you
That our family is meant to stay together. We greatly value freedom, alone-time, one-on-one time with each of the kids, and time for Kobi and I as a couple. We value that a great deal. Both Kobi and I have spent large chunks of time alone, to reflect and spread our wings. In less than a month, I’m going off for two weeks to do my first Vipasana, in (ironically) Battambang.
Right now, and for the passed four and a half months; we have spent all of our time together, as a family. Of couse, a few hours here and there apart; large chunks of our day, each happily busy in our own affairs. But together, eating 2-3 lunches together, hanging out on the bed together, Kobi playing chess with the kids, long walks, cuddling at night or in the mornings. And I guess, in this season of our lives, we are meant to stay that intimate. Neither Kobi nor I feel any desire or need for time away from the kids, for solo adventure; we just want to stay as a family, together.
So miserable became really beautiful. Miserable caused Kobi and Orazi to buy the first ticket back to Siem Reap and surprise us a day early. They met us by surprise on the main street, as we were out on girls’ day out with our friend Katrina. Like Desperado and his side-kick (which he didn’t have, but anyway), Kobi and Orazi ride up on our bike with new matching cowboy hats. Kobi’s grey patches; Orazi’s orange patches. Our heroes had come home.
Where is home? Where ever all of us are.
Final Official Notes: (Kobi Again)
Before we arrived to Cambodia for the first time 10 weeks ago, I recall arriving to Thailand so confused . At first, we thought of coming to Thailand for a short holiday, and then keep going (we were not sure where to). But we ended up spending most of our time in one place (like Kanchanaburi), and loving it. We had a tough transition into South East Asia (YouTube video), and have found that so much of the really good choices come to us after some confusion and last minute travel plans changing.
So, last minute travel plans was miserable or not? I don’t know.
If anytime soon, you do take a last minute holiday by flight, bus, or even a boat to anywhere (or even Battambang), keep in mind that you can do this for cheaper than you think. And, more importantly, if you can find a way to connect to the locals there, you can truly change lives.
And by the way, though we had a rough time, it was our issue. We know many people who have loved Battambang. Battambang has more things to offer its visitors such as the Bamboo Train, Countryside tours, Temples such as Phnom Banan, cooking classes and more.
We decided not to stay put, but to return to our family in Siem Reap. . Maybe because we were too tired from a very fulfilling day and a sleepless night, or maybe just because , you know…
So, ever had a short, spontaneous vacation turn sour? Ever missed your family so much, nothing else seemed to matter? Ever sweat buckets and couldn’t sleep all night? Do tell, do tell…Kobi and Gabi Klaf