Battambang is a sleepy little city in northeastern Cambodia, and a great place to unwind after the bustle of Phnom Penh or even Siem Reap. Battambang may not have that many attractions, but those who do make it all the way up to this region will be rewarded with great food, friendly faces, and a slower pace. Here are some ideas on how to make the most of your visit:
What to See and Do
Cambodian Cooking Class – If you’ve been enjoying Cambodian cuisine and want to take some of the best local dishes back with you, a great way to do so is by taking a half-day cooking course. Nary Kitchen in the heart of Battambang offers a small group learning environment that includes an hour long trip to the local market, and two hours of cooking up Khmer delicacies.
Bamboo Train – This is a 7 km ride on the old rail tracks that run all the way to Phnom Penh (though the full length of the tracks is not currently active). The bamboo train is essentially a wooden platform on wheels, which can reach speeds of 40 km an hour. It is a fun ride through farmland, just be prepared to encounter touts when you reach the village at the end of the line.
Tuk-tuk tour – There are a few attractions worth exploring outside of the city, and the best way to see these is by hiring a tuk-tuk driver for the day and having him take you around. Popular stops include the bamboo train, the bat caves, the ancient Khmer ruins, and lots of little villages.
Rent bicycles – A great way to explore the city’s temples, markets, and other places of interest is to rent a bike for half a day and pedal away. It’ll be hard to get lost as this is a very small city, but you can cycle along the river, ride past the old Governor’s House, visit the abandoned rail station which is now home to squatters, and follow the little dirt roads to see what you find. Don’t forget to bring water and wear your sunscreen, because the sun is unforgiving in these parts.
Phare Ponleu Selpak Circus – This circus is unlike any other I have ever been to. The children’s circus is run as a social center and art school, and seeks to help children find a way out of poverty by training them to become professional artists and performers. Some of the older students from this program have gone on to be accepted to the National Circus School of Montreal and are currently training to become performers for the Cirque du Soleil. Prepare to be amazed!
Where to Eat
Center Cafe -A great little breakfast spot that serves up some great omelets as well as yogurt and muesli. Order the Panang curry for a little taste of Thailand – it’s creamy and coconut-y to perfection! Best part: this cafe has fast Wifi, which in this city is really hard to find!
Gecko Cafe – This is a cafe that is intent on giving back to the community. Gecko hires staff, many of them young girls in their late teens and twenties, who are currently the sole providers for elderly grandparents or young siblings. Many of these girls are also attending university, which they have to fund themselves. For this reason, Gecko pays their staff salaries that are far above the average wage in Battambang, and tips are most certainly welcome. It’s a great cause to support, and the food is very tasty.
White Rose – This little restaurant is divided into two very distinct parts. The lower level has a more casual feel and caters to locals coming in for a quick bite, while the second floor which has a beautiful balcony caters to tourists. This restaurant offers Chinese and Cambodian dishes, as well as a few western favourites. Service isn’t the quickest, but they serve some great fruit and ice cream shakes that make the wait worth while.
Central Market – The central market isn’t just a place to pick up your groceries! This is a great spot where to try a few local dishes. Grab a plastic chair and order whatever the person next to you seems to be having.
Where to Sleep
Royal Hotel – If you’re looking for a little bit of luxury while staying on a budget, then this is the right place. Royal Hotel offers large queen sized beds with plush pillows, hand-carved wooden furniture, and flat screen TVs if you’re in the mood to watch your favourite English programs. $12 for a double room.
Chhaya Hotel – This is budget friendly hotel that offers everything from single rooms with shared bathrooms, to double rooms with en suite. The rooms aren’t the most spacious, but it’s a clean hotel in a great location. $10 for a double room.