If you have extra time in Cambodia, a few days to relax in Battambang comes highly recommended. It is the capitol city of Battambang province and is the second most populous city in the Kingdom. It also serves as the link between Phnom Penh and Thailand. Despite its size, it is very calm and a nice place to chill out. If you prefer going on architecture tours, Battambang is a great place as it has some of the best preserved French architecture in Cambodia. There are several temples and attractions to keep you occupied for the more adventurous type.
If you have a day to kill and a tuk tuk driver available to you, a day trip out to the Norry and Phnom Sampeu is a fun trip. We joined some other travelers from our hostel which made it that much more fun. The Norry (or Bamboo Train) is not really a train per se; it’s basically two axles with a bamboo platform on top and it’s propelled by a small wind up motor.
It used to serve for shipping things across the country back in the days of French rule but was abandoned by the Khmer Rouge Regime. Now the local police oversee a round trip ride to a small village where there is a brick factory and other souvenir stands. There are also a few kids selling souvenirs but it’s always a good rule of thumb to not buy anything from children as they are probably forced to work instead of going to school. Since there is only one track and they run several tours a day, any time there are two cars going in opposite directions they dismantle one of them so the other can pass and then they put it back together and keep going. This can happen several times during your ride. We had a great time on the Norry; we were treated to a Norry full of monks.
Phnom Sampeu is a hill a few kilometers outside of the city center. Here you can find the Killing Caves which served the same purpose as the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh. It’s a very somber place but one that is important to the history of the province and country. From there you can continue up the hill to the monastery and temple which is overrun by monkeys. Be sure you come down in time to see the daily exodus of bats from the cave at the bottom of the hill. It starts around sun down and continues for about 2 to 3 hours. There are thousands, perhaps millions of bats that live in this cave and head out everyday at the same time for dinner. It’s certainly a cool site to see.
These tours are run by local University students who are studying English or Tourism. There are many different options for half and full day bicycle tours around Battambang. We joined a half day tour that showcased daily life in a nearby village. We were introduced to their local snacks and handicrafts. Most of this tour is centered around food so don’t eat too much before hand if you join this one. Some of the snacks we tried included: sticky rice grilled inside a banana leaf, dried bananas and a local noodle dish.
We visited a local booze factory and saw the process for making alcohol as well as a factory that made fish sauce from dried fish. Needless to say it did not smell very good and we didn’t stay long. Another home we visited was of a local artist who made paintings and scarves. And of course any tour of this nature in this part of the world wouldn’t be complete without visiting the rice paper factory.
Around Battambang City
There are plenty of things to do and see in the actual town of Battambang. We stayed at a hostel called Here Be Dragons (the owner is a huge Game of Thrones fan). It also serves as a local watering hole for the town’s ex-pat community and a delicious restaurant. We enjoyed hanging out there in the evenings and partying with some locals. It could certainly get a little crazy some nights.
There are many places with delicious food and drinks. We particularly enjoyed the Kinyei Cafe. They have won many awards for their excellent coffees and they have delicious food. They also contribute to social causes and have bicycles for rent. It’s a great place to just read a book too.
Be sure to find the Taco Tuk-Tuk! It was parked near Here Be Dragons most evenings. Those tacos were very welcome and delicious comfort food.
After living in China for so long we were also very happy to find a Chinese restaurant serving dumplings.
The Governor’s Residence is the most impressive building in Battambang. It is a huge mansion with a lovely garden around the outside. Unfortunately, we were not allowed inside the gate and had to admire it as best we could from the outside. From there we visited the Museum which is only $1 and full of Angkorian-style lintels and statues from all around Battambang province. It’s a nice way to learn about some of the history of the region.
If it is particularly hot during your stay we recommend a visit to the local ‘country club’. For $1 you can use the exercise equipment which is good enough for a decent workout and for $2 you can take a dip in their outdoor pool. They also have basketball and volley ball courts you can use. For those who have been traveling for an extended period of time this place is great for relaxing and getting some exercise or pool time.
As you can see Battambang is more than worthy of a few days if you have the time. We had a wonderful time walking around the city admiring the architecture and relaxing/partying at Here Be Dragons. We certainly hope to return on our next trip to Cambodia.