The west of Cambodia is made for hearty travelers, a place to get off the track if you have the gumption. This Cambodia’s second-largest city is an elegant riverside town which is home to some of the best-preserved French-style architectures in the country with welcoming and friendly inhabitants. The city itself is developing fast but timeless hilltop temples and scenic villages can be seen on leisurely day-trips offering a glimpse into the daily rhythms of rural Cambodia.
Things to do in Battambang:
Where to go in Battambang:
Wat Phnom Sampeou Built in 1964, Wat Sampeou is a dynamic little hilltop temple, its towers jutting out of the top of a steep hill, one of the only high points in a wide, flat plain. The temple is best known as Battambang's ‘Killing Fields’, like Choeung Ek outside of Phnom Penh, where thousands of concentration-camp victims of the Khmer Rouge were killed. At Sampeou, victims were slaughtered and thrown into deep caves, two of which now house small temples and monuments. A visit here follows a circuit, first to the caves and a small temple that was once the prison building of the concentration camp here, then to the nearby hilltop temple. The temple itself is not incredibly interesting, just a few spires and some shaded meditation areas and statuary, but the views across the plain are stunning and the monks are quite friendly and talkative. The path then leads back down a steep path to the entrance.
Battambang Museum Two elegant avenues, with parkland down the middle, grace the city centre. One goes by the Centre Culturel Français, while the other stretches west from the worthwhile Battambang Museum. Highlights include fine Angkorian lintels and statuary from all over Battambang Province, including Phnom Banan and Sneng. Signs are available in Khmer, English and French.
Colonial buildings Much of Battambang's special charm lies in its early-20th-century French architecture. Some of the finest colonial buildings are along the waterfront, especially along the two blocks of St 1 south of Psar Nat, itself an architectural monument, albeit a modernist one. The four-faced clock tower is worth a look. There are also some old French shop houses along St 3, eg just east of the train station.
Governor's Residence The two-storey Governor's Residence, with its balconies and wooden shutters, is another handsome legacy of very early 1900s. The interior is closed but it should be possible to stroll the grounds. Except for the neo-Khmer laterite gate, the intersection out front looks much as it did in the 1930s - check out the French-only distance marker, the neat lawns and the New Iron Bridge, now reserved for pedestrians and motorbikes.
Old train station In the area around the old train station - where the time is always 8.02, according to the clock - and along the tracks just south of there, you can explore a treasure trove of crumbling, French-era repair sheds, warehouses and rolling stock, evocative of times long gone.
How to go to and in Battambang:
By Train: The train is a unique option in Cambodia, uniquely slow, difficult, and adventurous, and this is the best area to hop on it. With the many developments in the highway infrastructure in recent years, the railroad has become a bit of an anachronism, but there are daily connections between Battambang and Phnom Penh. It costs just $1.50 to travel between Pailin and Battambang and takes about 6 hours on a good day. It's $3 between Battambang and Phnom Penh, takes all day, and is not recommended. Trains leave in the early morning on alternate days, as the train shuttles back and forth between each destination. The Battambang station is on the north end of town, just a short walk. Trains no longer run from Battambang to Sisophon.
By Bus: Daily air-conditioned tourist buses connect Battambang with Siem Reap, east to Phnom Penh via Pursat, or west to Poipet and the Thai border area via Sisophon. All buses leave in the early morning between 6 and 8am. Bus companies are near the Psah Boeung Choeuk on the east end of Battambang and most buses arrive near there.
By Rented Taxi or Minivan: You can commandeer a Toyota Camry or a Japanese or Korean minivan just about anywhere in Cambodia these days; it's just a question of paying up a big fee for one-way use. Expect to pay at least $50 for a car from Siem Reap to Battambang, for example, but more common routes, from the Thai border to Siem Reap or fromPhnom Penh to Kampot or Sihanoukville in the south, come at reasonable rates of about $20 to $25 for a 3- or 4-hour cruise.
By Boat: Boat connection between Battambang and Siem Reap makes for a pleasant morning when the water is high but should be avoided in dry season. Starting at the ferry docking area on the Tonle Sap nearest Siem Reap, boats depart in the early morning, from 6:30am or so, and the 4-hour trip costs $15.
Getting Around You can walk around the town center, but for sights farther afield, hiring a motorbike taxi driver, or motodup, is the easiest and most affordable way; the downside is that short of the highways, Route 5 from Sisophon and Route 10 going to Pailin, roads are very dusty. If you do take a motorbike, be sure to bring a scarf or a Khmer-style krama or ask the driver to stop at a street-side stall to buy one.
What is the best time to go in Battambang? Here is some information to help you in your decision:
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