Welcome to Battambang, where rain gambling is a popular past time … what! Well it is simply hedging your bets on when it is going to rain, what else! Battambang is the biggest city in Cambodia’s northwest, and is at the intersections of the roads leading to Sisophon then onto the Thai border, Pailin and again onto Thailand in the west, and Pursat to the southeast. It is also one of Cambodia’s bread baskets.
Battambang | The Undiscovered Country
Battambang, or its predecessor, has been around for some time. Before the French, before the Thai’s, there was the Khmer Empire. It’s history, or more to the point what people can figure out, stretches back more than 1,000 years. At that time the area was an important agricultural centre for the Khmer Empire.
To attest to it’s importance, there are several impressive Khmer temples. They are the best that imperial money can buy and well worth the effort of going to. However, getting to any of them is a challenge, as they are mostly outside the city. This is where a motorcycle comes in handy. About 15 kilometers up river is Prasat Banan. Prasat Banan was built more than 1,000 years ago and is easy to spot as you travel along the road, as it is on a hill. Another temple about 13 kilometers down the river is Wat Ek Phnom. This Angkorian temple was built about the same time. It is partially collapsed but well worth a visit. There other places such as Baset Temple, Prasat Snung, and Phnom Sample and the famous Battambang bat caves. For other places, you’re just going to have to go to Battambang.
And the town of Battambang?
Battambang is in many ways it is like a large village. People are busy in the morning, take it easy in the afternoons and liven up in the early evening.
Apart from decaying Angkorean temples, Battambang also offers modernist cinemas built during Cambodia’s construction boom in the 60s. There is also a rich artistic community built on generations of artists. One, Vann Nath, was sent to S-21 to paint pictures of Pol Pot and survived.
Near the Central Market, or Psar Nat, is a fantastic hotel called the Seng Huot. It has reasonably priced rooms, but most of all, it has a roof-top swimming pool, particularly relaxing in the late afternoon and early evening. This is just the thing to cool down after those long days exploring the town and countryside and suffering from heat meltdown.
Essential Travel items Before You Go
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Cinnamon Buns & Delicious Dumplings
In addition to the temples and architecture, there are a couple of must visit eateries in the neighbourhood. First and foremost is the market. If you are an early starter then this is the place for you – this means dawn. In the middle of the market there is a path that connects each side of the market. Here, there many restaurants that serve coffee, bread and noodles. One shop, whose owner has handed management over to her young daughter, has the best coffee. She will even sit down with you and try to have a chat, which typically becomes a broad smile.
Another couple of places for good food are the Sunrise Café and Lan Chov Kharko Miteanh. The former has fantastic cinnamon buns and is great for breakfast. Okay, it isn’t exactly Khmer food, but it is okay to diverge from time to time. The latter is a dumpling and noodle restaurant. The taste and price can’t be beaten, in fact once you’ve tried the dumplings you’ll keep coming back.
Probably the best time in Battambang is the evening, just as the sun is setting. The food stalls open at the river end of the market and the selection is limitless. You can then grab an ice cold beer and sit by the river eating roasted chicken or fish or try something a bit more exotic.
Traveling to and Around Battambang
Getting to Battambang is straight forward. Bus is best and most places in Cambodia will have a bus or connecting buses that will get you there. However, an interesting alternative is the boat from Siem Reap; home to the worlds greatest Hindu Temple. The boat leaves early and takes most of the day. The journey starts out on the expansive waters of Ton Le Sap but quickly descends into narrower waterways. The boat weaves its way through the water-lily choked river. The boat passes through villages with houses on poles. Judging by their height, the Ton Le Sap gets very high in the rainy season and very low in the dry, so check that the boat is running. The journey ends in downtown Battambang.
Or hire a bike and cyclebodia. Cycling in Cambodia among tourists and volunteers is becoming more popular.
And then there is the Battambang train! Possibly
Cambodia’s long neglected rail line from Phnom Penh to Poipet and beyond passes through Battambang. Ask a local about the train service and the reply is usually “maybe it’s open and maybe it isn’t”. No mater, visit the station and maybe you’ll get an answer. It is a run-down building with the auspicious name of Battambang Royal Railway Station. It is easy to find: go up the river from the market to Sor Kheng bridge then turn right; you’ll see the station straight ahead.
As you leave Battambang, or arrive, you will see the statue of Ta Dambong (grandfather stick). This fella is revered by locals, who occasionally place incense at the statue’s feet. There is a story there about an impoverished farmhand and a fine staff made from rosewood. To listen to the story, you have to go to Battambang.