Battambang is one of Cambodia’s largest towns, nestled on the banks of the Sangker River. As well as boasting graceful architecture, the town is a popular place to visit by speedboat from Siem Reap across the lake. Nearby attractions include the hilltop Angkorian temple of Wat Banan, the sacred mountain of Phnom Sampov and the riverside temple of Wat Ek Phnom. Lifestyle excursions are a popular experience when visiting Battambang, including riding the ‘bamboo train’ through the lush countryside. Just outside Battambang lies Phare Ponleu Selpak, an NGO-funded circus school helping disadvantaged children to learn an alternative lifestyle. Formerly a stronghold of the Khmer Rouge, Pailin is known for its gemstones and has a beautiful setting on the edge of the Cardamom Mountains.
The recently paved and fixed Highways No. 6 and No. 5 from Siem Reap respectively from Phnom Penh very much ease a trip to Battambang by bus or taxi nowadays. For the “explorers” among the tourists a boat trip, best in the rainy season, from Siem Reap through the beautiful river landscape to Battambang or vis-a-vis is worthwhile. For those who have a lot of time and an even bigger adventurous spirit a train journey from Battambang to Phnom Penh is really something else considering the fact that the railroad network was built by the French occupants more than 80 years ago.
Two hours South West of Siem Reap is Battambang, a fascinating city that is only beginning to get the credit, and tourists, that it deserves. Awash with French era colonial villas and with the unmistakable buzz that only Cambodia can provide, the town provides visitors with an authentic urban experience that cannot be found in the tourist hotspots of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
Providing arguably the best street food in the country and a busy central market, it is a lovely town to simply explore on foot, criss-crossing the river as you go. The best accommodation can be found in some wonderfully restored colonial villas in the heart of the city, including La Villa and Bambu. For those not ‘temple out’ by Angkor there is the nearby Phnom Banan, a small hill temple providing a wonderful vista of the plains below and showing the scars from the civil war years. For many the highlight of Battambang is a sunset ride on the wonderfully imaginative and quirky bamboo train - a flat, homemade bamboo platform placed on rail wheels and then powered by an outboard motor – for a picnic in the rural paddy fields that surround the town. Evenings are best spent eating street food on the river front or in one of the colonial themed cocktail bars/restaurants.