Five reasons to visit Battambang now

Five hours from Phnom Penh, Battambang often loses to Kep and Kampot for those who want a relaxed getaway, and to Siem Reap and Sihanoukville for those who want a more exciting vacation. While it’s true that Battambang doesn’t have the buzz of Siem Reap’s nightlife or the beauty of Kep’s ocean views, Cambodia’s second-largest city is still worth a visit, sooner rather than later.

Here are five reasons why:

Battambang colonial architecture

Colonial architecture, bats, dessert: Battambang’s got it all.

1. There are many random things to do

Let’s start with the obvious. These are the things that make it into the guidebooks – and rightfully so, because they are worth doing.

Every evening as the sun goes down at Phnom Sampeu, about 11 km outside the city, thousands of bats take flight, leaving their cave to hunt for the night. It’s a very impressive, David Attenborough-type thing to see.

bamboo train Battambang

Yep, after years of closure threats, Battambang’s bamboo train is still running and still worth checking out.

The bamboo train takes you through the countryside on tracks originally built by French colonial settlers, although fair warning that “train” may be a bit of an overstatement for the slight steel frame that is propelled along by the engine of a motorbike or tractor.

The bamboo train isn’t the only way to see the countryside; bike tour companies such as Soksabike offer half- and full-day tours, and Green Orange Kayak rents kayaks to take everything in from the river.

No list of Battambang sights is complete without the circus. The Phare Ponleu Selpak circus troupe is good enough to tour internationally, and is a delight to watch in Battambang.

Battambang art scene

Battambang’s Lotus Gallery is at the forefront of the city’s burgeoning art scene.

2. There’s a growing art scene

Battambang has a long artistic tradition. Historically, many of Cambodia’s best artists and performers come from the region. Today, the arts are thriving in Battambang, with many enthusiastic local artists taking the initiative to put Battambang in the forefront of Cambodia’s arts scene.

And good news for those tired of Angkor Wat tableaus – there’s nary a temple in sight as the young artists in Battambang explore both personal and political themes in their work.

Poke around Lotus GallerySammaki, Make Maek, and Sangker Gallery to see the best of Cambodian art, or read more about Battambang’s art galleries.

jaan bai restaurant battambang

Don’t miss a meal (or three) at Jaan Bai in Battambang.

3. There is food and drink

If you’re hungry or thirsty, Battambang offers opportunities to indulge.

At Kinyei, try the country’s best coffee, served by 2013 Cambodian barista champion Sakana Long. Ask for her signature drink, the Cambodian cappuccino, or have the street latte, which was Untac Nem’s signature drink when he won the competition in 2012.

Go to Choco l’Art Café for dessert. Soline’s delicious chocolate mousse and chocolate hazelnut cake is always available, with a rotating menu of other desserts, none of which ever disappoint.

For drinks, head to Jaan Bai Restaurant, where the cocktail menu includes favourites like an espresso martini, an Earl Grey tea martini served with flair, and Jaan Bai’s own creation, “the crocodile tail.”

Battambang statue of the legend of "the girl who let down her hair" at sunset.

Battambang statue of the legend of “the girl who let down her hair” at sunset.

4. There is something that makes you want to stick around

There’s a Khmer saying about Battambang being a sticky place, sticky because many people visit for what they think will be a short time, but end up staying a lot longer than originally planned. Others leave only to find their path leads them back again.

So be warned when you visit: you may find it hard to leave.

battambang psar nath

Battambang: it’s not going to be quiet forever.

5. All these things may change soon

While it’s the city’s slow pace and quiet charm that appeal to many that visit, Battambang may not be slow and quiet for long. More tourists are passing through, and the local government is moving forward on plans to make Battambang more attractive as a nightlife destination. This will include the establishment of a “Pub Street” a la Siem Reap, so it’s likely the city will change quite a bit in the next five years. Visit now to experience Battambang’s sleepy charms, while they still exist.

Soksabike

Street 1.5, Battambang
T: 012 542 019
soksabike.com

Green Orange Kayak

Ksach Poy (8 km south of Battambang)
T: 017 736 166
www.fedacambodia.org/GreenOrangeKayak (PDF)

Phare Ponleu Selpak Circus

Street 542, Battambang
T: 077 554 413
phareps.org

Lotus Bar and Gallery

Closed Mondays
#53, Street 2.5, Battambang
T: 092 260 158
facebook.com/lotusbattambang

Sammaki

87, Street 2.5, Battambang
facebook.com/sammakibtb

Make Maek

66, Street 2.5, Battambang
T: 017 946 108
makemaek.com

Sangker Gallery

47-10 Street 1.5, Battambang
T: 012 309 829
facebook.com/sangker

Kinyei

Street 1.5, Battambang
T: 017 860 003
kinyei.org

Choco l’Art Café

Street 117, Battambang
T: 010 661 617

Jaan Bai

Street 2, Battambang
T: 086 505 954
cambodianchildrenstrust.org/jaan-bai

3 Responses to Five reasons to visit Battambang now

  1. Great article about Battambang. I never miss the chance to enjoy the chocolate desserts (yes, I get several each visit) at Choco L’Art when I travel there from Siem Reap. I also caught a great live painting event in front of the cafe last time I was there.

    Phare Ponleu Selpak Artistic Center is also an amazing organization, driving much of the artistic culture popping up all over the city and even the rest of Cambodia. If your readers visit Siem Reap, I hope they will experience one of the nightly performances of Phare, the Cambodian Circus here. http://www.pharecambodiancircus.org

  2. Thanks, I love the riverside area. Nice for a walk.
    Unfortunately the vineyard/winery closed down (or certainly wasn’t open 2 years ago when I tried to find it)

    Any live music scene information would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hey Warren – the live music scene isn’t the most robust, unfortunately, but Lotus on Street 2.5 periodically has live music (and recently had its first poetry night as well), as does Here Be Dragons. Hopefully the scene will develop a bit more in upcoming years.

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