Somehow, despite being the second-largest city in Cambodia and the capital of a busy province, Battambang is still described by many who visit as being "chill" and "relaxed". Perhaps the peaceful Sangker River winding through town or the colonial-era French architecture contribute to the easy-going vibe that woos so many travelers into staying longer than expected.
With tourists fighting for room in Siem Reap only a couple of hours away, Battambang receives a surprisingly small amount of attention. Battambang is mostly popular with backpackers wishing to escape Siem Reap but not wanting to be too isolated. Battambang provides a great base for visiting nearby temples and rural villages in the region, making it a personal favorite for many visitors to Cambodia.
Nowhere else in Cambodia is the French influence more apparent than in Battambang. The colonial buildings along the waterfront including the old governor's residence are impressive and lend an air of historic charm.
Located right in the city center, Psar Nat is the bustling market area and center of daily life in town. Most budget hotels and guest houses are conveniently located only a few blocks from Psar Nat. When first arriving, arrange for your transportation to simply drop you in the city center or get out when you see the big market; Battambang is easily walkable.
Battambang was occupied by Siam (Thailand) for over 100 years before the French signed a treaty and colonized in 1907. Today, many Thai people as well as a large Chinese population still call Battambang home.
Stone statues along the roads and in public spaces tell the story of kings, generals, deities, and other historic figures. Many renditions portray a king holding a "vanishing stick" which comes from the legend giving Battambang its name.
Things to Do in Battambang
Before exploring the many temples, read more about visiting Buddhist temples.
- The Norry: The "norry" is a rickety, open-air, bamboo train that rattles along on tracks laid in the 1930s. Passengers lounge on old rice mats and pillows while they enjoy the countryside. The norry, despite its unique practicality, is set to be discontinued very soon and is a must-see in Battambang.
- Wat Ek Phnom: Just 15 km northwest of Battambang is a lovely, 11th century temple containing a large Buddha statue. Getting to Wat Ek Phnom is as enjoyable as the temple itself; the road passes through small villages and beautiful countryside. The temple grounds are a popular spot for local picnics and festivals.
- French Food: Located around town are a handful of great cafes and bakeries with French coffee and unique baguettes.
- Wat Phnom Sampeau: Located on a limestone hill just southwest of town is an interesting temple near to caves used as killing fields by the Khmer Rouge.
- Wat Ba Nan: Conveniently located from Wat Phnom Sampeau is Battambang's miniature version of Angkor Wat. The temple, despite being mostly in ruins, is still in use today and offers a great panorama of the area. For the adventurous, some wild caves in the area offer tight squeezes and opportunities for exploring. Keep an eye out for Cambodia's only winery, Chan Thai Chhoeng, on the road to Wat Ba Nan.
- Ba Set Temple: Ba Set was constructed sometime between 1002 and 1050 and is on a hill overlooking Ba Set village. Getting to these many temples offers a great excuse to visit the many small communities and villages located around Battambang. Before interacting with the local residents, read about etiquette in Cambodia.
- Cooking Classes: Battambang is the perfect place to take a Khmer cooking class and rates are cheaper than in other tourist areas. One popular option is Ch'Ngainh! Ch'Ngainh!; for US $10 you can learn to pick out local foods at the market and then prepare a delicious meal at a family's house. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Tip: Entrance tickets purchased at temples (US $2) are valid on the same day at other temples. Hiring a tuk-tuk for a full day of temple and village exploration should cost around US $20 depending on how hard you negotiate.
Hotels in Battambang
Most budget hotels are found in the grid of streets just west or south of Psar Nat. The Royal Hotel and Chhaya Hotel are very popular with budget travelers, speak good English, and can provide useful information about the area.
Keep your eyes open and know how to avoid bedbugs when sleeping in budget places.
Getting To and From Battambang
There is no central bus station in Battambang; bus companies operate from private offices scattered along the main road NH5. You will probably be inundated by offers for transportation, however should you need a private car, the central taxi station is located in the northwest corner of town on NH5. The tiny airport in Battambang has been closed for quite a while.
From Siem Reap: If you have the time, taking the boat from Siem Reap to Battambang is a rugged and scenic journey that you will never forget. Travel times vary depending on the water level of the river, but the many floating villages and idyllic scenery will keep you happy until arrival.
By Bus: Travel from Siem Reap to Battambang by bus is fairly straightforward and the road is in good condition. The journey takes just under two hours and costs around US $5.
From Phnom Penh: Buses leave Phnom Penh (US $5 - $8) frequently and the excellent road allows the journey to be completed in under six hours. Private cars make the trip in four hours.
From Thailand: Minibuses run between Battambang and the border town of Poipet in around three hours (US $4). Two bus companies (Capitol Tours and Neak Kror Horm) offer direct service to Bangkok (US $15).
For maps of town and more information, visit Battambang's official website. (offsite)