4 great things to do in Battambang, Cambodia
Battambang, four hours from Siem Reap is the second largest city in Cambodia. Don’t let it’s size mislead you – unlike Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Battambang feels more like a quiet town lazing away on the banks of the river watching the world go by. While the town itself is worth spending a day exploring, it’s really the amazing countryside surrounding Battambang where you should devote most of your time. Whether you are researching travelling by yourself or booking one of many guided tours around Cambodia , Battambang is definitely adding to your itinerary. We spent 4 nights there and were happy with that amount of time, although we could have easily stayed a full week.
WIFI and working as a digital nomad in Battambang: As Battambang is less of a tourist destination than Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, cafes with WIFI are a little harder to come across. We were able to find several cafes with reliable fast connections but ultimately we found ti worthwhile to have our own (we purchased sim cards with data plans for our iPhones and USD modems) and to book accommodation with WIFI.
So what are some of the highlights in Battambang?
Visit the circus
Every Thursday night and Monday night from 6pm (although this is Asia, starting times are a little flexible!) acrobatic circus performances are held by Phare Ponleu Selpak, a NGO school which offers young people a way out of poverty and misfortune by training them in the arts, in particularly circus, music, theater and visual art.
The shows are a mix of classical tales and humorous skits, with balancing, juggling, twirling, spinning, dance and more. The performance lacks the polish of Cirque de Soleil but in my mind that makes it even more impressive. You can see every ounce of hard work these teens have had to put in to learn each acrobatic trick. Most are done to perfection but you can still see that they don’t come easily and that is really enjoyable to watch.
As well as the circus performance you can view an art gallery. They used to run a restaurant but it was recently closed for renovations – whether it is actually opening again who knows! Either way it does need to be booked in advance so contact them for more information.
Located a 10 minute journey by tuk tuk from the center of town, the best idea is to usually arrange with a driver for a return trip. Negotiate a time and return fare as it’s out in the middle of nowhere so you want to be sure you have a ride back into town. Double check before heading out there that a performance is definitely on – the group tours Cambodia and overseas so occasionally performances are cancelled.
Ride the bamboo train
The bamboo train may have become ‘the’ tourist thing you ‘have to do’ in Battambang but that’s for a good reason. In three years of travel, our ride on the Bamboo Train still rates as one of the most enjoyable and unique days out that we’ve had. Riding through the jungle and fields on a wooden pallet on tank wheels with an outboard motor for propulsion … not an experience to be missed!
Originally the train was a form of local transport that evolved out of recycled materials when the Khmer Rouge dismantled the train network and people needed a way to get between villages under the radar. Today the bamboo train is primarily run for tourists. A ride consists of a 20 or so minute trip in one direction towards a brick factory where you can stop for a drink and a walk through the village if you like before returning.
One of the highlights of the experience is when you encounter another bamboo train coming in the opposite direction. There’s only one track so the drivers quickly decide who has right of way (a method that comes down to who ever gets there first, bluffing and if all else fails rock, paper, scissors!). They then work together to dismantle one train, move it off the tracks, move the other train past and put it back together. The speed at which the whole process happens is amazing.
The second best fun – dodging the cows that wander across the track!
Take a tuk tuk tour of the countryside
It’s the countryside around Battambang that makes this region so fascinating. And there’s no better way to see it than by tuk tuk.
There’s so much to see and taste! Rice paper being made for spring rolls as it dries in the sun on racks or see rice noodles being made in a factory. Sticky sweet rice being cooked inside bamboo with coconut and red beans.
You can stop to see the sticky rice being baked over fire and then enjoy pulling the bamboo apart and eating it with your fingers – it’s sticky and messy but that’s half the fun. If sticky rice isn’t your think, why not visit a fresh seafood market. The markets around here redefine the word fresh!
Then there are the temples. From ones high on hilltops inside caves to ruins that pale in comparison to Angkor Wat but the run down nature and isolation makes you feel like you are on an Indian Jones adventure. Or temples like Ek Phnom which fall somewhere in the middle – not too far out of the way but you’ll have them all to yourself to explore!
If you have always lived in suburbia, just the tuk tuk ride through the villages around Battambang are like seeing a whole new world. No garbage collection, electricity or running water. No supermarkets or malls. No backyards with swing sets and trampolines. It certainly does make you think about the excesses and comforts that you are used to.
Countryside tours are easy to arrange. Ask any tuk tuk driver and discuss an itinerary – just be sure to set a price beforehand.
Go kayaking through villages
Run by a NGO local school, Green Orange Kayaks offers kayaking trips down the river from villages 11km from a nearby village into the heart of town. It’s a lovely trip passing through villages and fields before you enter the city. The trip stops at several temples and along the way you’ll see daily life on the river – from fishing to washing to bathing to play. Even farm animals being housed on small cages floating on the water. The riverside is stunning and if you didn’t arrive in Battambang by the slow-boat from Siem Reap then you really should try make this top of your list!