Battambang, Cambodia‘s second largest city and an agricultural hub near the Thailand border, was at one time a stronghold of the murderous Khmer Rouge. Today, Battambang is a stopping off point for travelers arriving by road from Thailand and Vietnam en route to Phnom Penh 294 kms to the north or by river ferry to Siem Reap, a six to 10-hour trip via Tonlé Sap.
Here you will find some of Asia’s best French colonial architecture, a feature not lost on authorities working to create a new eatery/bar street from the old French shop houses on the Sangker River waterfront. You will find Battambang more laid-back than Cambodia’s more populous centers.
Visitors love the waterside markets and authentic Khmer cuisine as well as the city’s beautiful pagodas and stupas including Phnom Banon, Wat Ek Phnom and Phnom Sampeau (Ship Hill) with its Khmer Rouge killing caves, all of which can be covered in a day by remarque (tuk tuk) for $15. Nearby is Wat Sampeau where at nightfall millions of bats swarm from caves seeking food.
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Not to be missed is the spectacular Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS) circus with shows presented twice weekly. Children and young adults star in live marquee performances of music, juggling, drama, and acrobatics that thrill and delight. PPS is a not-for-profit Cambodian association promoting skills to vulnerable children.
A visit to Battambang is incomplete without a ride on the famous bamboo train (nori), one of the world’s great rail experiences. Constructed with two railway bogies fixed with bamboo slats and powered by a 6HP motorcycle engine, the small trains can carry up to 15 passengers. When meeting another bamboo train from the opposite direction, the least laden train is disassembled allowing the other to pass. It is then quickly reassembled to complete its journey.
The experience takes about an hour from central Battambang town. Allow 15 minutes each way on the train and $5 per person. Rest area/turn around point has food and drink venders.
Tip: Hire a tuk tuk and driver for about $15 for a round trip to the Bamboo Train, the Bat caves, perhaps a visit to an ancient stupa and then back to your hotel.
Tip: Go in the morning before it’s too hot. There is no roof on the Train cart.