Battambang, Cambodia: An Unmissable City To Add To Your Itinerary
If Cambodia is crowned as the most epic country I’ve visited so far, then Battambang is the jewel in that crown. Located just south of popular backpacker destination Siem Reap, it’s a city overlooked in many itineraries, especially by those with time constraints. In my opinion, though, Battambang deserves your attention for its authentic experiences, delicious cuisine, and comfortable yet budget travel-friendly accommodation.
Here are my recommendations for exactly what to see and do in Battambang, which I’m confident will easily convince you to add it to your travel plans for Cambodia.
Ride a bamboo train
With nothing but an open rail track leading the way through miles of low hanging trees, the experience of riding a bamboo train is like no other. Sit cross-legged on a flat platform made of bamboo, while a local driver manages the engine that propels you at speed through the countryside air. It’s a fairly rickety ride, but great fun!
Top Tip: Do this activity first thing in the morning before it gets busy. The only way trains running in opposite directions can pass each other is by one giving way to the other. This means literally hopping off and helping your driver to dismantle the train and move it off of the track. The busier it is, the more often you have to do this and it can take away from the exhilaration of hurtling down the line.
Watch millions of bats take flight at Bat Cave
Just a thirty-minute tuk-tuk drive from Battambang city centre exists a cave that houses millions of bats. Like clockwork, these bats soar out of the cave at dusk each evening, and you can have a front row seat to watch the phenomenon. I’m not exaggerating when I say front row seat, as local vendors have set up stools and benches directly underneath the opening of the cave, which can be used in exchange for the purchase of food or drink. It’s well worth grabbing a beer or soft drink too, as it takes a good twenty to thirty minutes for all of the bats to leave the cave. Although, you may want to keep one thumb covering the top of your drink, as the bats sometimes let their bowels loose as they head out for the night… if you know what I mean.
Top Tip: The bats emerge in a formation and stay that way as they cross the immediate countryside surrounding the cave. After the first fifteen minutes or so, ask your tuk-tuk driver to take you to the main road and pull over next to an empty field, and you’ll be treated to a landscape view of the creatures moving as one in the distance. I also have the contact details for a brilliant tuk-tuk driver if you’re looking for a recommendation!
Explore the nearby countryside by moped
Battambang is without a doubt the most hospitable place I visited in Cambodia. Renting a moped here and taking off into the countryside to explore nearby villages and views is completely safe, so set aside an afternoon to get a taste of the rural Cambodian lifestyle in this way. In just a few hours of exploration you might see fruit bats hanging from trees in broad daylight, farmers washing Oxon in the river, children playing and giggling with glee as they run along the riverside, and homeowners of traditional Khmer houses on stilts, waving kindly as you pass.
Top Tip: Although I’ve not come across any negative experiences when renting a moped from local hotels, when in Asia it’s always best to thoroughly check the condition of the vehicle before you set off, take pictures of any existing damage and share it with the owner to avoid any potential allegations later.
Get your temple fix at Wat Banan
It may not be as grand and impressive as Angkor Wat, but Wat Banan Temple is well worth touring. Situated at the top of a hill, and requiring a 358-step climb, this temple is pretty empty of crowds and really allows you to get up close to the incredible architecture.
Top Tip: Eat a snack before heading up to the temple, that stone-step climb is no easy feat if you’re in need of a bit of fuel!
Dine riverside at the aptly named restaurant ‘The River’
Overlook the Sangkhae River, which runs right through the centre of Battambang city, whilst filling up on classic Khmer dishes like Lok Lak (sauteed beef with salad) for lunch, dinner, or both!
Top Tip: If you’re strapped for cash and prefer not to eat at restaurants (I’m usually a street food gal!) you can still stop here for a quick drink and respite from a day of sightseeing.
Travel to Siem Reap by riverboat
That’s right, you can actually move between Siem Reap and Battambang by boat, and though it’s not a faster, cheaper, or more comfortable option than travelling by bus, it’s definitely the most novel and interesting. On your journey, you’ll navigate directly through floating villages along the river, and on the Tonle Sap Lake. It’s a completely unique way of life that the families in these villages live, and our journey was filled with seeing small children in colourful clothing thrilled to see strangers pass by, whilst their parents moved between houses using canoes.
Top Tip: The boat from Battambang to Siem Reap is best taken shortly after the rainy season. If it’s dry season you’ll encounter the issue that we had of running aground numerous times! What was initially a six-hour trip, became a nine-hour trip. As well as this, the boat company – ironically titled the Angkor Express – tends to overbook, so if you don’t arrive early for departure you’ll find yourself sat on the roof of the boat with no cover from the sun/rain. Even if you get a seat inside the boat, it’s a squash, so be prepared to get cosy!
The above activities require no more than a couple of days based in Battambang, so if you’re planning to travel, or you’re already travelling Cambodia, I strongly urge you to include it in your itinerary. As I said, it’s just a few hours by bus from Siem Reap and en-route to Phnom Pehn, so what have you got to lose!