Traversing the West Side: Battambang Here I Come, But Wait...Siem Reap Here I Come Too!
by Erika Larsen
June 7, 2014
After our first week of work, it came time for Rosemary and I to leave Phnom Penh and head to our provincial offices. I boarded a 7:30 am bus to Battambang, having done enough research to know that taking a bus through the country would be an adventure…but I was no where near prepared for just how much of an "adventure" it would be. For seven hours our huge bus bounced down the sometimes dirt, sometimes gravel roads - going airborne every once in awhile when we hit a big enough bump or pothole. I was comforted by the less-than-phased Khmai people, that is until we hit a bump and went flying high enough to make the woman across from me yell something to the bus driver in Khmai that did not sound particularly friendly.
(The helmet may have been overkill, but sunglasses and a mask are relatively standard here, especially when the rooftop emergency escape is open and you are traveling on a dirt road.)
Once I arrived in Battambang, I realized it was a bit smaller than I anticipated. In Phnom Penh I wished there were less tuk-tuks constantly seeking your business, but in Battambang I felt alarmed as I noticed the lack of tuk-tuks available to take me to my guesthouse. It was quite a "watch what you wish for, you just might get it" moment. Luckily, the woman who had sat next to me during the bus ride was headed to a 10-day silent meditation retreat at a center close to my hotel, so she asked a tuk-tuk to take us both where we needed to go, and off I was. Once I arrived at the guesthouse I was greeted by a very friendly staff who organized a tuk-tuk to take me to and from work this week. I grabbed dinner for a few dollars at a vegetarian restaurant across the street, and went to bed early before my first day at the provincial office.
In the morning I headed to the Battambang Provincial Courthouse (photos below), as IBJ's office is located in the same complex. I arrived a bit early, but was soon greeted by the staff: Sothea (the lawyer), Kalyan (the lawyer assistant), Phearun (the office manager), and Odoum (a fellow intern from Cambodia). I was relieved when I realized that the staff spoke quite a bit of English, and would be willing to help me learn Khmai. My boss, Jeanne, had assigned some data for me to gather from the case logs here in the Battambang office, so I started working on that immediately. For lunch, Kalyan and Phearun were kind enough to take me out to a local restaurant where I enjoyed some Khmai food and got to know them a little better. Following that, we headed back to the office and finished up the work day.
During the week we had quite a few interesting cases come through the door, and a few so novel that the lawyer asked me to do some research to give him guidance on how exactly to handle these unprecedented issues. Because Cambodia has very little case law, expansive research plays a huge role in criminal defense. I was able to learn quite a bit of Cambodian law as I studied the criminal code and wrote up a brief for the lawyer on one of the issues at hand. All in all I had a great first week of work here in Battambang, and am working with an incredibly helpful staff who has made sure that, despite the language barrier between me and the clients, I am involved in most things they do.
Here in Cambodia, when a holiday falls on the weekend you are given the following Monday off of work. So, since International Children's Day was on Saturday, Rosemary, Brian, and I took advantage of the three day weekend to meet up in Siem Reap so we could visit the ancient temples at Angkor Wat (a World Heritage site which should really be named the eighth world wonder, for more information on the temple's history, click here: http://whc.u nesco.org/en/list/668). Although the heat almost managed to do me in after visiting the first temple, I was amazed at the size and beauty of the four ancient structures we visited and would love to have a chance to go back again before I leave Cambodia. Aside from our visit to Angkor Wat, we did quite a bit of shopping at the Night Market, watched a traditional Aspara dance performance at a buffet, and checked out the restaurants on Pub Street - a touristy area with an Irish pub, a cook-your-own-food (including crocodile and shark meat) Khmai BBQ, and a few other bars and restaurants. If you would like to see all of the photos I took while in Siem Reap visit this link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/124496548@ N02/sets/, or watch the video below for a quick look at some of my favorites. Siem Reap ended up becoming my favorite city that I have visited in Cambodia so far, but we will see if more time in Battambang starts to give it a run for its money!