Visit to Battambang

Disclaimer:the views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not reflect those of VSO’.

I recently had a four day visit up to Battambang, Cambodia’s second city, which sits near to Thai border in the West of the country. It is at the heart of the rice growing centre of Cambodia, around the Tonle Sap lake and has featured heavily in the various conflicts of recent times, occupied twice by Thailand, threatened by the Khmer Rouge and their allies throughout the civil war – even as recently as the 1990s. I can’t say, thought, that I saw much evidence of Thai influence.

The purpose of the visit was to take Or Siem, the Vice Director of my Dept with whom I share an office, to see the VSO Preparatory English Language course, an excellent teaching resource for Grades 5 and 6 of the Primary School which demonstrates good child-centred learning. The Ministry is looking around for a low cost resource which can be used to support English language learning and this resource is already available ‘off the shelf’. Professionally the visit was a great success: we visited two Primary Teacher Training Colleges (in Sisophon and Battambang) as well as schools associated with these colleges (where we saw some great lessons!). We also heard from a really talented mature Peace Corps volunteer who is working in a different College with student teachers who will go into Lower Secondary Schools. We spoke to trainers, the College directors and the teachers, while local VSOs (and former VSOs) helped greatly in setting up the programme.   This will certainly help to move things on, but is perhaps only the first of many hurdles in trying to take it forward. The initial hurdles concern approval within the Ministry, and there’s a fair bit of politics in there. Then we will run into funding hurdles as we will have to develop a strategy to train teacher trainers and existing teachers. I am still keen to work on this in partnership with Peace Corps as that will greatly increase our capacity and may help with continuity in taking the project forward after I leave.

What part of this children’s song have these kids reached?  They were having a real giggle!!

head and shoulders knees and toes

Here are some other kids showing letter.. getting used to the English alphabet is a major foundation stone for learning.


Battambang is a laid back town. It’s obviously quite big, as it has a large commercial centre, on either side of the river.  Here’s a bit of the river up from the main town centre….. but not very far away:

river view Battambang


There are also long unregulated ribbon developments along the main roads in (from PP) and out (to Thailand). But you don’t need to stray too far from these roads to feel that you are in a country village. I stayed with Leandra and Andre (now almost fully recovered from his motorbike accident in Kg Cham) who live a five minute cycle from the centre of town but in a quiet road with a very rural feel. Let me rephrase that – a road that looks as though it should be quiet, with a very rural feel. In fact, they are in the middle of a spate of local weddings and it seems that for several days before the wedding, good form requires the family to amass as many large speakers as possible and start blasting out karaoke style music from about 4.00 or 5.00 in the morning. When I was there they had a relief for one of the days and then it started again. Andre has now started up his photography business ( ), while Leandra is doing well in the Teacher Training College where she is placed. She is taking over from Helen, a remarkable New Zealand woman who has been there as a VSO for the past five years, having gone out there aged 64!! It’s obvious that she has done a good job in the College. She has now decided to stay there and has bought a house with a local family. Leandra’s key target is that she will make herself redundant.. and that by the time she leaves they will no longer want/need a VSO in the College as they will be up to speed in all respects. She is very hard working and committed, so I would not be surprised!   Andre has an enviably laid back attitude to life:

with Andre waiting for a beer!

Socially it was a nice visit too. I met up with the education VSOs who are based in Battambang – we had a really nice meal together.

On the Thursday evening, Leandra and Andre took me to the Battambang circus (think Cirque du Soleil rather than lions and clowns). This started out as a circus school in the refugee camps on the Thai border during the long civil war period, but they now have a school, with 180 students, and four touring companies going round the world right now. The ‘home’ performance used about a dozen young men (15-18), who offered two long, well choreographed pieces, to Music. Acrobatics, props, juggling, dance and drama all featured in what was a powerful show, particularly their representation of life in the time of the Khmer Rouge (the first piece).
Andre took some fantastic photos (no flash) with his very good camera and lens.  I managed two, not so good, but they still give you an idea of the piece.

dance of the khmer rouge



You can see from the website that this is a vibrant and very successful organisation:

For once, the bus trip back was uneventful and having left almost on time at 7.10, I returned to PP in pouring rain after 1. There was a VSO meeting in the afternoon at 2, so I was able to attend that on time, but with the Water Festival holiday leading to a long weekend (it’s a three day holiday at the Ministry), it will be more than a week since I have been in my office – come to think of it, is that a bad thing!!


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