Is Battambang Worth Visiting? Cambodia’s second city

Is battambang worth visiting

So, you’re interested in finding out more about Battambang, Cambodia’s second city? It’s a popular stop off for backpackers travelling through Cambodia. May people ask me ‘Is Battambang worth visiting?’ The answer is… depends. I totally loved Battambang and I am really glad I made a stop there. It’s authentic Cambodia, away from the temples of Siem Reap and the capital of Phnom Penh. But, if you have restricted time in Cambodia, you may want to skip Battambang in favour of Siem Reap and/or Phnom Penh because those cities have certain attractions that you would not want to miss (including the Royal Palace and the temples of Angkor Wat).

Introduction to Battambang

Battambang is the second city of Cambodia after the capital Phnom Penh. The city is often overlooked but Battambang is certainly worth visiting. It is famous for its French colonial architecture, modern and ancient temples, and of course, the Bamboo train (more about this later!) The city is doable in just two days – this is plenty of time for everything that you might want to do in Battambang, including one or two things outside of the city such as Wat Ek Phnom.

Buddhist Temple Battambang
Damrey Sor Pagoda – The White Elephant temple – a Modern Buddhist temple in Battambang

Getting to Battambang

It takes around 5 hours by bus from Siem Reap to Battambang, and quicker by private taxi which should cost around $55-60. Battambang is about 6 hours from Phnom Penh by bus and again a bit quicker by private taxi (expect to pay around $80).

Is Battambang worth Visiting? Yes, it is! But only if you have plenty of time in Cambodia

I totally loved Battambang and would recommend it as a great place to experience authentic Cambodia. It’s not the capital city and it’s not over-run with tourism like Siem Reap is becoming due to the temples of Angkor Wat. I found Battambang to be relaxed and walkable. I also really enjoyed the sights of Battambang which included Wat Sampeau, the Bamboo Train and the Bat Cave. It had a great vibe for solo travellers, digital nomads and backpackers.

However, you want to consider Battambang in the context of your overall itinerary. If you only have 5 days in Cambodia (or even one week) then you will need to prioritise Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. There are certain things that you will not want to miss in those cities including…

If you are in Cambodia for 10 days or more then you should definitely consider adding Battambang into your itinerary. People who are doing a three month tour of Southeast Asia or a year round the world trip often stop off in Battambang. It gives you a balanced view of Cambodia and is very backpacker friendly.

The Pros of visiting Battambang

Battambang offers a very traditional experience and has a more relaxing feel to it than Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. I enjoyed the traditional markets, sightseeing at Wat Sampeau and the beautiful modern and ancient temples. It found it to be a manageable city. You can walk to many main sights in the city and take a tuk-tuk to the ones a little further out.

Traditional Markets and Authentic food experiences

Battambang was my favourite place in Cambodia to visit the local markets. Phsar Nath Market was very ‘lively’ and it was nice to see the local people going about their trades. You could see fruits and vegetables of all varieties.

Is Battambang worth visiting authentic markets

It’s a market aimed at locals rather than tourists and you will see local delicacies being prepared. Sadly the preparation of the frogs legs included seeing the frogs heads chopped off on a chopping block while their were still alive!!! (I still don’t think I have recovered from witnessing this!)

Roasted Rat Battambang
Phsar Nath Market – Roasted rat anyone?!?!

Good Digital Nomad and Traveller scene

I found Battambang to be full of digital nomads and long term backpackers, making it easy to meet new people and mix with other travellers. ‘The Place’ which was the hostel I stayed at in the centre of Battambang had a great roof terrace bar which was good for laptop work and socialising. I also met other travellers on the tour of Wat Sampeau. Many people travel from or to Kampot or Kep as well as Phnom Penh.

Old Colonial Houses

There are several old colonial houses to visit in Battambang, many are beautifully decorated. My favourite old house to visit was Mrs. Bun Roeung’s Ancient House. The house belonged to Mrs Bun Roeung’s family pre-Khmer Rouge times. When the regime started they fled the country, during
which time the house was used for rice storage and communal/shared kitchen by Khmer rouge soldiers. You get a tour of the house (quite often accompanied by tea!) and an explanation of the history and how the furniture was made.

Great Temples – The Ancient and the Modern

You will see authentic temples in Battambang – both old and new. Here are a few good ones to visit…

  • Damrey Sor Pagoda – This is the beautiful White Elephant temple which is walkable from the centre of Battambang. Very colourful and much more modern than the temples of Angkor Wat.
  • Wat Ek Phnom – Book a tuk-tuk to take you to the Big Buddha, the Modern temple and the old Wat Ek Phnom temple ruins.
  • Wat Sampeau – The Mountain temple around 15km outside of the city (visit this along with the monastery and cave).
  • Wat Samrong Knong – This is the oldest temple in Battambang built in 1707 by the monk Thudong Chey. It was used as a prison during the reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.
Visiting Wat Ek Phnom
The ancient temple of Wat Ek Phnom

Wat Sampau and the Battambang Bat Cave

No trip to Battambang is complete without a visit to Phnom Sampeau (about 15km outside of the city). This Buddhist mountain has a dark past – the Battambang killing cave was used by the Khmer Rouge to throw dead bodies down after they had been murdered. The cave, temple and monastery are definitely worth the trip, but if you are short on time grab a jeep to the top.

Siem Reap to Battambang
Wat Sampeau, Battambang

Make sure that you get to the bottom of the mountain for around 5.30-5.45pm to see the mass exodus of bats from the Battambang bat cave ready for an evening of hunting.

The Bamboo Train!

Many people would argue that a trip to Battambang is worth it for the Battambang bamboo train experience alone! It is hands down the most fun experience I had in Cambodia. Even though it has now become a little touristy, it’s an insight into the past and SO MUCH FUN TO RIDE!

All aboard the Battambang Bamboo train! One of the most fun experiences I had in Cambodia!

The Cons of Battambang

There are several challenges to travelling in Battambang. For starters, it’s not the easiest place to get to. What should be around a 4-5 hour trip from Siem Reap can end up being 7-8 hours when you take into account breaking down, bribing cops and changing tyres! The climate is tropical and temperatures are hot. Expect signs of poverty and other cultural challenges. Battambang is traditional Cambodia and isn’t always peachy!

Not very accessible – Potential Transport Issues

I never realised that getting a bus from Siem Reap to Battambang could be such a challenge! On the way there we had sub-par tyres that urgently needed replacing. When questioned by the police, our driver simply slipped him a bribe to carry on! (Bribary and corruption are rife in Cambodia, even amongst the Cambodian police! We pulled into the next gas station where it took around an hour and a half to change the (clearly shot) tires. It must be a one off, I thought to myself, but then….more challenges on the way back from Battambang to Siem Reap…

Bookaway Review
The immense ‘tire change’ following a police bribe on route from Siem Reap to Battambang

Language challenges

Although most tour guides in Battambang speak English, the language barrier will be particularly difficult in local markets and restaurants. Khmer is particularly difficult to learn and not available on as many apps as other languages Spanish and French. Don’t expect to always get the exact item or quantity that you ordered in bars and restaurants!

The Dual Currency – USD and Cambodian Riels Combined

Cambodia has a dual currency system which combines USD and Cambodian Riels. The dollar is the preferred currency, but they don’t use coins – only notes (and preferable flat and crisp ones!) This means that you may get your change in a mix of dollar and Cambodian Riels, which is very confusing! The exchange rate is approximately 4000 Cambodian Riels to $1. That means that if you get $2 and 2000 Riels change, that is the equivalent to $2.50.

Cultural Challenges and Intensity

Some people find the cultural challenges of Battambang to be intense. Take a guide if you need to, particularly for the temples, Wat Sampeau and the markets.

things to do in Battambang
Sleeping Buddha in the cave at Wat Sampeau

Cambodian food can be spicy and adventurous. Don’t be scared to find something Western – it is easy to find burgers and Italian food in Battambang (head to La Pizza or Ristorante Italiano).

Oh….and why not take yourself a rooftop bar day?

Temperature and climate

Battambang is best enjoyed in the dry season (avoid the summer monsoons), but as it has a tropical climate it’s always going to be insanely hot. You will need suncream and a sun hat, along with light conservative clothes (cotton or linen trousers or walking pants work well). It’s a good idea to go out early in the morning and avoid the heat of the day. Dehydration is common amongst travellers, especially those who are not used to tropical climates. Drink plenty of water and take some rehydration sachets such as Dioralyte. You can also buy ‘Royal-D’ reasonably cheap in Cambodian pharmacies which is a good post sports rehydration sachet.

Don’t get pissed on by a bat!

As I’ve mentioned, travellers who venture to Wat Sampeau should congregate at the bottom of the bat cave at dusk to see this phenomenal mass exodus that Battambang is famous for (it lasts about 15 minutes!) But let me warn you about something – the falling bat piss! Yes, while I was in Battambang I got pissed on by a bat! And I don’t think I was the only one!

Battambang Bat Cave
Bats flocking out of the bat cave at Wat Sampeau – watch out for the falling bat piss!

Signs of Poverty

Sadly you may witness poverty in Battambang. People working in the markets are on low salaries. You may also witness victims of landmines begging – often with lost limbs, and this is difficult to face. But instead of giving money on the streets, it’s better for you to donate to a charity that helps the landmine victims or those in poverty.

What to pack for Battambang

If you are looking for some ideas of what to pack for Battambang, here is a short list of essentials…

  • Cotton/linen trousers and/or walking pants
  • Leggings and T shirts (avoid vest tops)
  • Sturdy and waterproof walking boots with good loop hole walking socks to wear with them
  • Swimming costume (full length better than bikini) in case you get the chance to have a roof top pool swim
  • Suncream, sun hat and a scarf (for keeping sun off head and shoulders but also as a shawl for warmth at night
  • Decent camera although not necessarily a DSLR (can be heavy) – go for a Nikkon Coolpix or Canon Power Shot.
  • Water bottle (such as a life straw)
  • Medical kit with antihistamines (for bug bites) and electrolyte sachets (for dehydration)
  • Plenty of crisp $1 bills (if they are torn many people will not take them!)
Is battambang worth visiting
The Peddler Statue is of a man with a yoke across his shoulders, carrying baskets is the symbol of Battambang.

Most important Battambang Travel Tips

  • Allow plenty of contingency travel time!
  • Book accommodation close to the bus or train station
  • The weather gets HOT so get somewhere with a rooftop or garden pool if possible, to help you to cool off after a long day of sight seeing
  • If you are interested in beautiful modern temples then head to the Elephant temple – Damrey Sor Pagoda.
  • Download the PASS App and also GRAB App fro booking tuk-tuks on your smartphone

Overall Verdict – Is Battambang Worth Visiting?

So, overall, Is Battambang Worth Visiting? I would say YES but only if you want to see an authentic Cambodian town and if your schedule allows for it. Don’t prioritise Battambang over Phnom Penh or Siem Reap, but do add it into your itinerary if you have more than a week in Cambodia. Battambang is particularly worth visiting if you are looking for a very traditional and authentic experience.

Further Reading on Battambang

If you enjoyed this article on ‘Is Battambang worth visiting?’ then you might also like to read more on Battambang….

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