Battambang (pronounce BattamBANG!) Having left the tourist trap that is Siem Reap on 15 June I arrived in Battambang and thought ‘Oh crap, this is a mistake’. I had read about Battambang’s French colonial architecture with its faded charm, and somehow expected a sleepy town, a little bit off the beaten track with a laidback vibe. Instead, my first impression was of pure mania and a lot more fade than charm. However, I’m glad to say my first impression was wrong. Within hours, I was really enjoying Battambang, and began to see why people would linger here for longer than planned. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a very gritty little city and if you’re a hygiene freak you’re not going to love it but I’d take it any day over Siem Reap.
So, here’s what I now know about Battambang: You only need spend a few hours rambling around the ‘walking area’ of town but it’s full of charming little cafes and bars. Accommodation I stayed at the Holiday Hotel. I was apprehensive while booking as I’d read some mixed reviews but I can say this much about it: It’s a clean, simple, no-frills, 3 star hotel. There were NO ANTS. The air con is fine. It cost me $17 per night for a spacious double room. There is no bar or restaurant. The staff were lovely. When I arrived I found it funny that they didn’t have a brochure full of trips and a free map to give me. But I quickly realised I didn’t need that stuff – everything is done word of mouth, they organise your trips and tuk tuks and it’s all done very well with no fuss.
I also stayed at The Sanctuary Villa (4 star) for a few days as I wanted a bit of luxury by the pool and they were offering a really good low-season deal. It’s a couple of KM outside Battambang. You do need a tuktuk in and out of town as there is nothing outside or around the hotel but if you fancy a few days’ rest in a beautifully Zen-designed interior with gardens you may like it. Food and drink I had breakfast at the Sunrise Café. Great range, good prices, home-baked muffins and pastries too.
Bric a Brac is a high-end artisan, textile and gift store, a B&B, and a bar which serves fine wines. (A lot of Cambodian venues sell one red and one tepid white so if you’re craving a good wine you’ll be in very good hands here.) Its owners, Morrison and Robert, have also written a massive award-winning Burmese cookbook and they employ local apprentice weavers who work traditional looms. I don’t think they serve food every night but when they do it’s incredible as Robert’s a fantastic cook. <iframe src=”https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2
Woodfire café is a lovely, relaxing spot for a drink or a bite to eat. As a solo female, I was very comfortable on my own there and would gladly read a book and chill out over a beer in the evening. There are also lots of restaurants and a night market along the river. Night time in Battambang… …ends at about 9.30 when all the tuk tuk drivers have gone home! Seriously. Mind you, I was there mid-week so it’s probably more happening at the weekend and along the river. Do NOT miss the Phare Ponleu Selpak Circus. I went to the puppet show and it totally exceeded my expectations (ticket $14). It’s probably not what you would expect from a circus or puppet show. I would call it physical theatre with lots of acrobatic and juggling skills. They also have a charity-funded visual arts school for young people and you can buy some of their work if you wish.
Tour of the surrounding countryside You must give yourself a day (or long half day) to get out of town on a tuk tuk tour of the countryside. That’s the real highlight. Get your hotel to organise a driver/guide who is known to them. You will be in very isolated countryside and if you are travelling solo you need to know you are safe. My driver/guide cost $20 – he picked me up from the hotel at 8.30 a.m and I was back by about 3. My guide was excellent and I got him from the Holiday Hotel. He told me all about the Pol Pot era and showed me the rice fields where he worked in a labour camp as a child under the Khmer Rouge. Your tour will probably include: The bamboo train (5$ per passenger in a group. I was solo so I had to pay $10. My fault for being the world’s worst haggler. Anyway, everything’s cheaper when you travel with a group and split costs.) Wat Banan temple Buddhist monastery Various farms Muslim fishing community along the river, their fishing boats and mosque, Phnom Sampeau, the killing caves, new temple and surrounding countryside. It’s a very steep climb up to viewing points and temples. I got a motorbike with guided tour for 3$. The bat colony and caves Optional – crocodile farm. I didn’t go as I’m not interested in crocodiles as a tourist spectacle and I can only imagine how those crocodiles are treated. There are lots of small shops/cafes at every stop along the way. Tons of opportunities to buy clothing and textiles!