Not everyone puts Battambang on their travelling list as it doesn’t have any famous attractions like Siem Reap, Phnom Penh or Sihanoukville, but there are many other attractions Cambodia’s second largest city has to offer that will impress and entertain any traveller.
The city is divided into two halves by the Sanker River.
Psar Nat is located on the west where most of the restaurants and accommodations are. It is the assembly market and the centre of Battambang with the old town. On the east side, there are a lot more residential areas with a slow rise in accommodation. One of the glorious things about Battambang, however, is that there is no divide between the residents and tourists. It is a complete compilation of many cultures, smiles and hospitality.
Like the other cities, Battambang has a rich but tragic history because of the Khmer Rouge. It was founded in the 11th century and was later (in the 18th and 19th century) controlled by the Siamese. During the French colonial era, the city went back to the control of Cambodia.
Unfortunately, during the Khmer Rouge, Battambang was completely empty as the residents were forced to join inhumane labor camps, and even after the Rouge riots continued to burn through Battambang. There has only been peace since 1996.
Even though Battambang has 3.000.000 inhabitants, it doesn’t feel like a city at all, but rather a large village. With it being only 3 hours from Siem Reap and 5 hours from Phnom Penh, it’s easy to hop into a bus, minivan or private taxi to make your way there, and definitely worth the trip.
Here is a list of reasons why you should visit Battambang.
This is a three-in-one destination. Make your way to the top of the mountains for an awe-inspiring view of the surrounding landscapes, but be sure to head to the caves at sunset, as hundreds of bats leave their home to venture into the night - an incredible natural phenomenon. Before you go to the scenic parts of Phnom Sampeau, we recommend you visit the three caves that acted as killing grounds during the Khmer Rouge. Even though you might find it sad and chilling, it is definitely a good way to feel the history of this country.
Art in Battambang
The city has a reputation of being the art capital of Cambodia and to this day flourishes with vibrant old and new artists. Sadly so many pieces of art were lost during the takeover of the regime, but luckily the city has once again been filled with many artists bearing incredible gifts and talent. There are a few galleries that should not be passed like Phare Ponleu Selpak, Romcheik 5 Artspace, Sangker Gallery, and Lotus Gallery and Café. Each one is uniquely different with rich sources of beautiful artworks.
This a very well-known attraction, and offers travellers a look into the more rural past of Cambodia. The train was used by the more impoverished parts of the population to move around and transport even live animals and produce. It is made of a wooden platform that’s placed on former armored wheels and powered by an old marine engine. There is only a single track that can accommodate one train so the train with the least amount of passengers and/or luggage has to leave the track for the other one to pass.
Today it is used for tourist purposes and costs only 5$ for a fun hour-long trip.
Phare Circus and School
The Phare Circus of Cambodia is a delightful acrobatic extravaganza, that uses raw talent, live music and traditional Cambodian storytelling to entertain and bring joy to many people. Not only are tourists delighted by the show, but the circus and school also bring so much hope and support to many students, who often go on to be national (and even international performers). The school offers programs in circus performance, theatre, music and dance. Everyone can attend classes regardless of their background, age or gender. The performers start at the circus show in Battambang, have the opportunity to move to Phare the Cambodian Circus in Siem Reap, and sometimes get offered shows in other countries by different academies. This show is moving and inspiring, as the emotion of each performer fills the air and moves through the crowd and into each and every onlooker.
Ek-Phnom is a great place to visit if you’re looking to see a temple, a traditional Wat, and a giant Buddha all in one day. The temple was built in the 11th century and is Hindu-orientated. It has not consistently been renovated and is in pretty bad shape, but it has a certain romanticism that comes with the crumbling rocks, and rough exterior.
The Wat was only erected in 2003 and is filled with incredible ceiling artwork and traditional fittings.
The Big Buddha is quite the sight to absorb as the mere size of it is difficult to fathom.
All three offer a great sense of serenity and peace and is located only 12 km out of the city.
This temple is quite challenging got get to as you have to climb up 358 stone steps to reach the top of the 400m high mountain. Once at the top you can bask in the essence of its’ ancient glory, soak in the lush jungle surroundings and relax in the areas filled with resting points where you can enjoy a light meal or put your feet up in a hammock.
The temple was built in the 11th century as a Hindu place of worship but was later converted to a Buddhist temple. Today you can find influences of both beliefs. This is one of the most beautiful sights to see, and you can enjoy a scenic 25km motorbike ride on your way to the mountain.
The beauty of Battambang stretches over quite a distance and we recommend you rent a motorbike for the most scenic, affordable and convenient trips around. Tuk Tuks are also available but the prices are higher than normal due to the long distances.
If you are wanting to experience a more quiet side of Cambodia, without it being a remote getaway, Battambang should be an absolute must-visit destination on your bucket list of Cambodia.