Battambang was involved in Cambodia’s civil war for more than a decade, there are still mine. However, it is way far from the past now. Battambang is different from. It is peaceful and safe. Battambang province is known for its art and culture, the city is full of French style buildings and legacies. It was hidden as a tourism destination for a long time, but over the past two years more and more people coming to Battambang to experience this unique corner of Cambodia.
Here’s a quick guide to the best ways to spend your time as you visit this incredible city.
Start your time off with a bike tour through the countryside to jump right into what makes this city so special. Cycling is the most common form of transport in Cambodia so it’s the perfect way to start engaging with the culture. Join Soksabike Tour for one of their daily tours run by knowledgeable local student guides. During this tour, you will have authentic experiences, meet local families, and get to see Cambodian life and daily businesses such as rice paper making, banana products, fermented fish (a Cambodian cooking necessity), and so on. Plus by traveling with Soksabike, you support responsible tourism and community development - portion of your tour fee goes to each family visited on tour and to guide training programs. The tour starts at 7:30 am and finishes around 12:30 pm back at the Soksabike office right in town. Be sure to stop into Kinyei Café after the tour for your free coffee or drink included with the tour purchase – another great social enterprise in town. Soksabike’s model ensures that you are not just having an amazing experience but also supporting local people, protecting their culture, and traveling in a responsible way.
Phnom Sampov and Battambang’s Bats, 3pm
After a bike ride and a great lunch at Kinyei Café, you will want some down time to relax. Most Cambodians return home to nap at lunch as it’s the hottest time of day. I suggest you follow suit and check out your local pool, camp out in one of the many local coffee shops, or check out Street 2.5 for some unique boutiques and great souvenir shopping.
After a relaxing afternoon, around 3pm you can head over to see Battambang’s famous bats and to hike Phnom Sampov (Sampov Mountain). There is a mountain just outside of town where thousands of bats live. Every evening,they fly out of the caves looking for food. It attracts both national and international tourists every year to visit. Your hotel can help you hire a tuk tuk for around $12-15. The driver will wait for you as you enjoy dinner and drinks at the mountain base while watching the bats leave their mountain home. Plus for a small entry fee, if you go a bit before dusk, you can hike the mountain. The view at the top is brilliant, you can see Battambang city surrounded by miles of rice fields. Most people prefer to go to the mountain at about 3pm so that they can climb to top – hire a local guide or English speaking tuk tuk driver to learn the mountains story as you take in the incredible view. The hike is lined with different temples, caves, statues and other interesting features. There is a Buddhist temple on the top of the mountain where you can visit and get a Buddhist blessing. This temple was a prison during Khmer Rouge, with a nearby cave being used to kill prisoners. Be sure to visit the memorial on the mountain to learn more about Cambodia’s difficult history. The hike and mountain exploration normally takes about 2 hours. After your climb down, you can relax at one of the many restaurants to wait for the thousands of bats to make their exit. They normally appear around 5:30 or 6pm and continue for about an hour. If you are adventurous, try the boiled snails with chili sauce that many vendors sell – a local favorite when waiting for the bats. Sompov Mountain and Battambang’s famous bats are a must-see for your time spent here.
Jaan Bai is well known as the best restaurant in town. It is a social enterprise restaurant, providing skills development and employment for Cambodian youth. Jaan Bai offers a great fusion of western and Asian dishes. Be sure to check out the coconut braised beef ribs and the eggplant mushroom dumplings, plus they have spectacular cocktails to accompany your meal. To be honest, it’s hard to go wrong with anything on the menu.
Central Market and Tuk Tuk Ride, 8am
Start the morning of by walking into the center of town to visit Psar Nat (Central Market). This is one of the main shopping centers for Cambodian people. People use tuk tuks in their daily life to run errands or get around town. Tuk Tuks are small carts pulled by motorcycles that can fit up to 4 people. When you are here in Battambang, you can go to visit countryside by tuk tuk. From the market, you can hire a driver to take you to visit Banon Temple, an Angkorian ruin older than Angkor Wat. The temple was built in late 11 century on the top of Banan Mountain. People need climb by stair to visit the temple. You can stay to have lunch at one of the restaurants along the pond. Before the temple you can visit local grab winery where you can get a shot of the local taste. Starting a bit earlier in the morning is great for your haft day tour. The view looks awesome. Getting fresh air form the morning sun rise and it is not hot in the morning. On the way of your tour, you will enjoy with Cambodian countryside, visiting some pagodas before you head back to town.
Afternoon Art Tour – 2pm
Battambang is famous for its art scene. While you’re in town, be sure to check out some of the local galleries. Romcheik5 is run by local student artists and offers 3 floors of unique and cutting edge art. It’s a bit of a walk from town so it’s best to hire a tuk tuk to take you across the river. In town, be sure to find Sankger Gallery, Lotus Café (which has a gallery upstairs), and Tep Kao Sol for some great watercolor art that you can take home.
A City Snack, 4:30pm
After an afternoon exploring the galleries, you’ll be ready for a snack before the evening activities. Join the locals and head to the East side of the river to try out some of the best street food in the city. These stalls don’t open until the afternoon, but they will be filled with locals getting beef meatballs. An order comes with five skewers of meatballs served with fresh vegetables and a special fish sauce. These stalls also serve full dinners and offer some of the best food in the city. Grab a beer or a Khmer coffee and some of the other snacks like **** to truly immerse yourself in the local culture.
Sor Kheng Park, 5:30pm
The city of Battambang is so beautiful. The riverside is lined with French influenced buildings all the way to its art deco central market building. The roads are quiet in the morning and afternoon, but the city comes to life in the evenings when the weather is cooler. People come out to Sor Kheng Park along the river to hang out, eat, and exercise. The park is in front Classy Hotel on the east side of the river. With the beautiful garden and flowers, the park has many paths for walking and jogging and exercise equipment to act as a free gym. Be sure to check out the dance classes that occur throughout the park for about 1000 riel ($.25 USD). It’s a great place to get a sense of daily Cambodian life in the city.
From the river, head over to Phare Ponleu Selpak. Founded in 1994, Phare Ponleu Selpak is a non-profit Cambodian organization working on support children, young adults, and their families with art schools, educational programs, and social support. Many evenings, a group of circus students put on a show to impress where their talent and passion for. Their new skills is amazing to watch. Circus performances start at 7pm. Phare’s dance students kick the show off with a traditional dance as a short welcome before the circus show. The story of each circus show at Phare is authentic to Cambodia, bringing in Cambodian folk-lore and daily life. The performers are all students and are not yet professional circus performers, but their unique performance with rare mistakes on the stage make us feel more connected with them and invested in the performance while having fun with them. Once they graduate the program, many head to the Phare circus in Siem Reap to become professional performers. You can buy tickets from many vendors in town, including Soksabike, from your hotel, or just buy the ticket when you arrive.
Where to stay:
Bric A Brac
Delux Villa – check reviews online before including this one…