Want to experience authentic Cambodia? Look no further than Battambang. Although Battambang ranks as the second largest city in Cambodia, it remains an off-the-beaten-path destination rarely found on travelers’ bucket lists. Here, you won’t find pristine white sand beaches or wild pub crawls; instead, Battambang offers a city steeped in ancient temples, untouched local culture, and arguably the finest Cambodian cuisine you’ll encounter.
Located just a 3-hour bus ride from Siem Reap, Battambang serves as a delightful stopover before your journey to Phnom Penh. Despite its population of 250,000 people, the city retains a small-town charm that beckons you to rent a bicycle or moto and set out for exploration. Pack your backpack for a day of adventure, where you can uncover roadside food stands, meander through lush green rice fields, traverse rustic country roads, visit ancient temples, and cap it off with an artisanal latte at a cozy coffee shop. Life here unfolds at a leisurely pace, just as in many places worth discovering.
Let’s dive into the best things to do in Battambang:
Kayak through Villages and Countryside
The riverside area of Battambang is home to many local residents, but the houses here may differ from what you are accustomed to. Essentially, it is a neighborhood on the water, characterized by houses built on stilts extending over the water. These stilt houses serve as spaces for locals to fish, swim, and launder their clothes.
During your water-based adventure, you will also journey downstream into the countryside, where you can kayak alongside rice fields where farmers diligently tend to their crops. As you paddle through this picturesque landscape, the dense rainforests will provide a refreshing and cooling breeze.
To rent your kayaks for this experience, consider Green Orange Kayaks, an NGO school that utilizes the proceeds to support the education of local children. Your tour package will include stable kayaks, paddles, life jackets, and a friendly English-speaking guide.
The Well of Shadows
As you embark on your journey to the Well of Shadows, you will be captivated by the sight of a magnificent golden pagoda adorned with spirals that seem to stretch endlessly toward the heavens. But explore a little closer and you’ll discover that this pagoda holds a more profound significance in travel.
The Well of Shadows serves as a poignant tribute to the countless lives tragically taken during the dark era of the Khmer Rouge. When embarking on your travel adventure, prepare yourself for an awe-inspiring monument that may not be suitable for the faint of heart. As you approach, you will be greeted by a captivating display of human skulls and bones, some bearing visible gunshot holes, carefully encased within a grand glass box.
Beneath them lie remnants portraying the chilling events that unfolded during this period, encompassing travel to historical sites and encounters with ancient artifacts.
For your travel adventure, embark on a thrilling journey by bicycle or motorbike along the scenic east side of the Sangkar River. As you make your way, you’ll come across the captivating Well of Shadows, nestled approximately 6 kilometers north of the vibrant city of Battambang.
Hike to the Killing Cave
Lace-up your sneakers securely and embark on a captivating mountain trail, where monkeys roam freely, birds serenade you with their songs, and swarms of bats take flight as sunset approaches. Along this scenic path, you will encounter serene pagodas, monuments, and statues, all leading to a dramatically contrasting memorial site.
Upon reaching the caves, brace yourself to confront the horrors that plagued this region during the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror. As you descend into the cave, you will witness a stark juxtaposition between the natural beauty of the surroundings and the man-made horrors within. Inside the cave, you’ll find a somber museum displaying human bones arranged along the perimeter.
When you gaze upward through the skylight, you’ll behold the very spot where the Khmer Rouge mercilessly took the lives of innocent families and scholars, pushing their lifeless bodies to plummet into the very cave where you now stand.
Phsar Nath Market
Battambang’s most iconic and centrally located landmark is the Phsar Nath Market, also known as the Central Market. This market, constructed in the 1930s by French architects, boasts a distinctive architectural design that distinguishes it from other buildings in the vicinity. It features French-style shop fronts and ceilings that one wouldn’t typically associate with a small Cambodian city.
The market functions as the primary trading center for locals, offering a wide range of goods for buying and selling. Similar to many Cambodian markets, it includes wet sections with fresh seafood and hanging cuts of raw meat, as well as dry sections featuring fresh fruits and dried seafood. The market is a sensory delight, with an array of flavors, aromas, and sights to explore. Visiting in the morning allows you to experience the peak of its vibrancy.
Kampong Pil Pagoda
The adventure begins even before you reach Kampong Pil Pagoda. To get there, you’ll need to cross a long bamboo suspension bridge that stretches over a flowing river and sways with each step. Be prepared to step aside when daring locals ride their motorbikes across and hold on tight.
Once you arrive at the pagoda, your heart may still be racing from the bridge crossing. However, a leisurely stroll around the pagoda’s grounds will help you find your inner peace. Kampong Pil is a traditional pagoda characterized by its golden roof and white walls, creating a picturesque scene. What sets this pagoda apart are the Buddha statues, sculptures of Angkorian people, and the massive reclining Buddha located on the premises.
This vibrant place exudes a cheerful energy and offers numerous opportunities for taking photos.
Killing Field at Wat Samrong Knong
It’s a tragic story that unfolded across the entire country. The Khmer Rouge took the most sacred places and turned them into killing fields, and Wat Samrong Knong in Battambang is no exception.
This pristine temple, one of the oldest in the province, was constructed in 1707 using a unique combination of cement, brick, and wood. The resulting architectural blend is so aesthetically pleasing that it could captivate you for hours.
Regrettably, there is more to this site than just its architectural beauty. There is a memorial here to honor the approximately 10,000 Cambodians who lost their lives during the senseless genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge.
Ride the Bamboo Train
While Cambodia had noble intentions of establishing a fully functional railway system, it encountered significant challenges in achieving this goal. The slow trains were plagued by inefficiency and lacked speed, ultimately leading to the suspension of all train services in 2009. This left the railway tracks completely abandoned.
One remarkable characteristic of the Khmer people is their unparalleled innovation. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that they ingeniously repurposed those abandoned tracks to create their own transportation system.
They constructed small, boat-sized bamboo trains capable of accommodating a small family, providing a convenient means of transporting people and goods. These “trains” are operated manually using a lever and must be removed from the tracks whenever two trains meet. It’s a unique sight worth witnessing firsthand.
Visiting this remote Angkorian temple, nestled amidst a lush green jungle, feels like stepping into a surreal travel adventure. The temple’s ancient brick stairs, worn by time, lead you to a hidden gem surrounded by overgrown vines.
Constructed towards the close of the 12th century, it is truly remarkable that these architectural marvels have endured the test of time. Embark on a journey up a series of elevated steps that ascend steeply, guiding you to a magnificent platform adorned with five distinct structures, forming a majestic temple.
While traveling to the temple, you will be treated to breathtaking views of the Sangker River, lush palm tree forests, and expansive green rice paddies in the farming fields. During your travels, on clear days, you will have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the magnificent crocodile-shaped mountain situated to the south.
While traveling, you can expect to encounter numerous vendors, beggars, and locals offering religious handicrafts for sale.
Show your support for student artists by becoming a part of the audience at Phare Ponleu Selpak, Battambang’s vibrant circus. Unlike other circuses, which have garnered negative reputations for exploiting individuals and animals, this circus operates in the exact opposite manner. In fact, Phare Ponleu Selpak is managed by a Cambodian NGO that is dedicated to taking in street kids and youth from challenging backgrounds, offering them the opportunity to acquire new artistic skills for self-expression and sustainable livelihoods.
The circus performance is brimming with excitement, featuring Angkorian-era dances, acrobatic artists, awe-inspiring jugglers, and much more. This incredible evening is available just two nights a week, so be sure to plan ahead to experience it.
Go on a Cycling Tour
For just around $16, you can embark on a thrilling adventure with your own personal travel guide who will take you on a mesmerizing journey through the picturesque landscapes of Cambodia. Immerse yourself in the rich Khmer culture and witness the breathtaking beauty of untouched nature that awaits you at every turn.
When you embark on a journey with Free Cycling Tours, you’ll experience a delightful culinary adventure. Along the way, you will make various stops at charming shops and workshops, where you’ll have the opportunity to discover the wonders of rice paper, banana chips, rice wine, bamboo sticky rice, fish paste, and a bustling local market brimming with authentic local delicacies.
During your travels, you will embark on a scenic cycling adventure through the picturesque countryside, surrounded by vibrant green rice paddies. As you pedal along, you will pass through quaint village neighborhoods, immersing yourself in the local culture. The journey will take you down enchanting red dirt roads, adding a touch of charm to your experience.
By the end of your travel adventure, you’ll have unforgettable experiences exploring new destinations, indulging in delicious local cuisine, and making lifelong friendships along the way. Traveling to Battambang is an absolute must-do for any adventure seeker.
Q: Is Battambang safe for tourists?
A: Battambang is generally safe for tourists. However, like any other destination, it’s essential to exercise caution and follow local advice to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit.
Q: What is the best time to visit Battambang?
A: The best time to visit Battambang is during the dry season, from November to February when the weather is pleasant for outdoor activities.
Q: How do I get to Battambang from Phnom Penh?
A: You can reach Battambang from Phnom Penh by bus, taxi, or boat. The bus is the most common and affordable option, with several departures daily.
Q: Are there any traditional festivals in Battambang?
A: Yes, Battambang hosts various traditional festivals throughout the year, offering visitors a chance to experience local culture and customs.
Q: What souvenirs can I buy in Battambang?
A: Battambang is known for its handmade crafts, so look for unique souvenirs like handwoven textiles, ceramics, and wood carvings to take home as keepsakes of your trip.