Although it is Cambodia’s second biggest city, time somewhat stands still when visitors arrive in Battambang. In comparison with the tourist hubs of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, there are a few visitors. The city, quite like a small town, has continued to retain its Cambodian charm. I hands down loved this place and wish I had more time to spend there than just 2 days. Here are my top things to do in Battambang.
Introduction to Battambang
Battambang is located on the Sangkae River in northwestern Cambodia and has a population of around 200,000.
Many people travel from Siem Reap to Battambang and then travel South to the islands and then Kampot. Most people arrive in Battambang by Mekong Express bus.
The GRAB app for tuk-tuks and taxis doesn’t work in Battambang (time of writing January 2020) so download the PASS app as this does.
Things to do in Battambang
A massive sigh of relief rippled across Cambodia when in January, the government had finally announced that the bamboo train was back on the track and being re-established in a different area after operations were stopped in its original location.
And thank God it was running – this was the most FUN thing I did in Cambodia!
Known as a ‘norry’ in Khmer, the train is a small bamboo platform covered with a mat and a few slim cushions to sit on. This sits on two sets of bogies with a motor at the back. A pole made out of wood is used as both the accelerator and brakes, with the train hitting speeds of around 50km/h. A truly hair-raising ride.
Wat Ek Phnom
Around 9km North of Battambang you will find Wat Ek Phnom where you can explore the remains of an 11th Century Hindu temple (as old as Angkor Wat but less well preserved) and the modern Buddhist Wat that is built in front of it. There’s also a huge Buddha statue.
The Phare Circus
Battambang is known as Cambodia’s creative capital and it’s only right that it is home to Phare Ponleu Selpak. The organisation offers underprivileged youngsters free arts training in a range of skills. The most well-known for the circus performances can be found in Battambang and Siem Reap, which entail a range of incredible acrobatics. Visitors may have a daily tour of the campus before they stop off to see a fun circus show.
Head for an afternoon up Sampau mountain to discover two culturally and religiously important sights. Enjoy a tuk-tuk ride in mid-afternoon to Phnom Sampeou, around 12km from Battambang centre, and go to the peak. This is where you’ll find the killing cave, a beautiful hilltop monastery and lovely views which stretch continually into the horizon.
Half way up the Mountain you will see a small temples and the ‘Killing Caves’ where the Khmer Rouge tragically murdered people and threw them into the cave. A memorial and reclining Buddha exist in the cave today.
At the top of the hill you will discover the beautiful Wat Sampeau with it’s golden chedi and amazing scenic views from the top.
For the grand finale of your visit to Wat Sampeau – just before dusk – head back down to the base, and join the crowds that gather at about 6pm to watch the seemingly endless stream of bats pour out of the caves for a night of hunting. This is a popular spectacle with both the locals and tourists alike. Several rows of chairs are ready for you to sit on and observe the mass exodus and you can enjoy a beer while you do so!
What to Pack for Cambodia
Take light cotton tops, long comfortable trousers and maxi dresses that cover your shoulders. Thailand is a conservative Buddhist county and you are likely to be refused entry to top sites like the Phnom Penh Royal Palace and Angkor Wat with shoulders showing and shorts or short skirts. You can pack shorts and vest tops for hanging around your hotel or the pool.
Pack a water bottle because many guest houses are eco friendly and have a refill and reuse policy to cut down on plastic waste. The drinking water is fine and many hotels supply cold purified drinking water.
Bugs bite particularly in the evenings in Cambodia and so a bug repellant is essential. Also the sun can get hot – this Christmas and New Year temperatures were exceeding 32 degrees and so sun screen is another essential.