There are places that are not interesting, but still you want to be there. Places where you don’t have the feeling of wasting time despite not doing anything. When you travel it’s easy to fall into a trap of constant search for attractions, traveling only to “score” another temple, museum or monument. Battambang is a perfect escape, as there isn’t almost anything interesting.
I don’t even know how many days we stayed there. The time slipped through my fingers, but after an intense visit of Siem Reap, that’s what we needed. An uninteresting place. And at the same time really pleasant.
Battambang is a small town inhabited by less than 200 thousand people. Its main attraction is the central market Psar Nat, built allegedly in Art Deco style, but it actually looks like any other market in south-east Asia: it’s dirty, crowded and smelly, yet in a way alluring as well. Also, the town can boast some colonial building, lost in the center and by the river. I looked around intensively, as it’s easy to miss them because they are neglected and most of them in poor condition. Still, I think they constitute an interesting, European in style, element of the town. Moreover, south from the main market, there are a couple of bars with a lovely backpacker atmosphere. You can also look for a shop and restaurant Coconut Water, established by an NGO of the same name that support the local community living in the countryside. In the shop you can buy some charming hand made souvenirs and clothes and upstairs there is a nice restaurant with a rooftop bar with some hammocks to relax. Maybe you will be lucky to meet one very musical waiter who sings his own version of Scott McKenzie If you’re going to Battambang…
In Battambang you should just stroll around the city, calmly, eat in one of the many local restaurants and see how a life of a common person living in this small and charming town is. And in the evening you can go to one of the backpacker bars and talk with their woners or other travelers. That’s what I like in Battambang the most: the mix of european laid-back atmosphere and the authentic cambodian lifestyle.
For the ones who still are eager to actually see something, there is a couple of places outside the city. Around 12 kilometers from Battambang there is the village of Phnom Sampeau. On the top of a hill, on one side there is a Killing Cave where the enemies of the Khmer Rouge were murdered, a small temple and some sculptures. On the other side you will find another temple with wonderful views over the surrounding fields and hills. On the viewpoint there are some almost domesticated monkeys waiting for rests of food from the tourists. I recommend going there by motorbike, as the hike up might be tiring, especially in hot and sunny weather.
A couple of kilometers ahead there is another interesting temple, Banan. They say that this temple served as a prototype for the temples of Angkor, and actually you really can see some similarities. You need to climb steep and long stairs to get there (this time you have to get a bit tired), and on the top you will see five towers constructed in a similar way as Angkor. The ticket costs 3 dollars and includes the visit in Phnom Sampeau.
If you have a day to spare, I would recommend a motorbike tour to both places. Start from Banan, then ride through a narrow road through rice paddies up to Phnom Sampeau. There, visit the temple and the cave and around 5pm ask the local people for the best spot to see the bats flying out of the caves to hunt. We didn’t have time to see it, but I heard it’s a great view.
Besides this two villages, some kilometers from Battambang you can go for a bamboo train ride, it’s quite touristy, but it’s worth it, it’s quite funny 🙂
If you are looking for spectacular temples and a beautiful city, don’t go to Battambang. If you’re going to Battambang, make sure you… don’t expect too much. It’s a laid-back town where you will find some authentic piece of Cambodia, but you can also feel the European relaxed vibe.