Battambang is somewhat of an ode to French Colonialism. The city lies in the heart of the Northwest and until the war years was the leading rice-producing province of the country. The 100,000-person town offers not only one of the best preserved examples of the French Colonial era, but also the small-town feel you expect to encounter in Cambodia as a rule.
The true bonus however is the village life that is a mere stone’s throw away, be it by motorcycle, jeep or boat. The combined effect makes Battambang well worth the slight detour it requires to visit.
This museum displays artifacts from Battambang and nearby. Next door is a small display about local agricultural and fishing practices, and local legends and folk tales.
Good things sometimes come from bad times. One of these was the founding, in 1986 in a refugee camp on the Thai border, of Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS). This volunteer project used simple drawing workshops to help young refugees overcome the trauma of war through art and self-expression.
The children of PPS are now young adults who run a home at Anh Chanh village, near Battambang, where more than 100 students are able to enjoy free activities and support, and get an education. Among the activities are an animation centre, music classes and a circus, which now has a growing reputation.
Tel: +855 (0) 53 730 535 or +855 (0) 53-952 424 for the circus performance schedule.
the Smokin’ Pot restaurant offers courses to help you learn to cook traditional Khmer food at reasonable prices.
Tel: +855 (0)12 657 125
These trains, known as “norry” in Khmer, consist of a wooden frame, bamboo decking, an engine and wheels that come from a bust-up wartime tank. They chug up and down the railway line between Battambang and the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
Naturally, they are illegal, but tolerated because they are so useful – and in any case there is only one real train a week up and down the line. Bamboo trains are used for carrying people as well as freight.
A trip on one of these can be booked through most hotels, or you can arrange it through your local motorbike taxi or tuk-tuk driver.
A fun way to see the Cambodian countryside is on the back of a motorbike taxi. Puttering along the roads with the wind in your face, you’ll go past small villages, streams and farms. There are many places to stop and take a look around, such as Wat Sampeau which sits on top of a limestone hill 18 kilometers out of town. Another is Wat Banan, nicknamed “Mini-Angkor Wat”, which has a beautiful view once you’ve climbed the 359 steps to get to it.
Wat Baydamram is fascinating because of the large number of bats living in the trees inside the temple compound, and you should also visit Wat Ek Phnom, another “Mini-Angkor Wat”. Don’t expect to cover all these temples in one day. Take your time, take it slow and enjoy the scenery.
Two kilometers south of the town, this village has half a dozen wooden houses dating from about 100 years ago, along with tools and other artifacts used in daily life at that time, such as a rice mill and an ox-cart.
On the road heading south out of town, this 6.5-metre-high monument was created by four Cambodian artists and completed in September 2007. It was built from weapons surrendered by residents of Battambang province; due to the years of war at the end of last century, thousands of weapons had found their way into the hands of Cambodian civilians. Continuing efforts are being been made by the government, in conjunction with international bodies, to collect and destroy these weapons. The monument was sponsored by the Japanese government to mark Cambodia’s commitment to peace after the 30 years of conflict going back to the Vietnam War.