Battambang is the second largest city in Cambodia and is considered the artist capital of the country. It also has one of the best preserved colonial quarters in Southeast Asia. It’s an easy-going city that gets relatively few visitors. It doesn’t help that it shivers in the shadow of the tourism goliath of Angkor Wat/Siem Reap, which is just three hours drive away.
Battambang is just off the direct path between Bangkok-Siem Reap, and Siem Reap-Phnom Penh. With some better travel planning it is easy to include this interesting city in your Cambodia itinerary.
This travel guide is the notes on my stay there as well as useful travel links.
Things to do in Battambang
Wander around the colonial quarter
The French colonial architecture and the grid layout from that era is what makes Battambang a charming little city to walk around.
Compared to other former colonial cities of Southeast Asia, Battambang has many building intact and still in use.
The city has been considered for UNESCO world heritage listing, which would certainly open the tourism floodgates if that was to happen.
Explore the many temples
Battambang has a great collection of wats (Buddhist temples) throughout the city. If you are familiar with the wats of Thailand you will see similarities with the style of temples here, though Khmer buddhism has is own flavour compared the Thai-style.
Like any activity in Battambang, try to go in the morning or later afternoon to avoid the heat.
I found this depiction of mortality at Wat Tahm Rai Saw. A good reminder to memento mori.
Greet the sunrise by the river
I’m not trying to be a ra-ra motivational writer here, but you should really get up and see the sunrise. There is something special about the break of dawn in the greater Mekong region, and the parks along the river are an ideal place to greet the day. Plus it gets so hot during the day that it’s the most comfortable time to go for a walk.
While the old city area is on the west bank don’t neglect the east bank. There is a beautiful park on that side of the river as well, and in the evening you can watch the sunset over the old town area.
Psar Nath (the central market)
This market was built in 1936 and was designed by the same French engineering company that built the central market in Phnom Penh and Ben Thanh Market in Saigon.
The market sells clothes, jewellery and household items, along with a fresh food market. There is a food area too which is a good cheap lunch option.
This makeshift railway uses trolleys with bamboo trays to traverse a stretch of railway outside the city centre. In what was once a means to cart goods has now become a tourist attraction in itself. Here is my review of riding the bamboo railway.
Abandoned rail yards
For a bit of urban exploration have a look at the abandoned rail yards next to the old train station which date back to French colonial times.
Battambang for digital nomads
I spent 10 days in Battambang and many times I kept thinking that this could be a new Chiang Mai. That sounds like a bit of a stretch to make such a statement, but there are many similarities between the between Chaing Mai and Battambang:
– Both are the second cities of their countries.
– Both are considered as cultural/artistic capitals.
– Both have pleasant and walkable old city areas.
– Both have many Buddhist temples scattered throughout the city.
– Both have cheap accommodation options.
One thing that is holding Battambang back is the transport infrastructure. There are currently no train services and the nearest airport is at Siem Reap. The bus from Phnom Penh takes over 6 hours for a 294KM trip.
The railway from Phnom Penh to Bangkok is being upgraded so it should eventually be possible to travel by train from either city.
As for air travel there is a functioning airport but no commercial flights. It is currently used by the Air Force, and Battambang’s proximity to Siem Reap may mean it will be years before international low cost airlines consider it as a new destination. Still, I have been to far less interesting cities in Southeast Asia that AirAsia fly to, so maybe Tony Fernandes has considered it as a new destination.
At the time of my visit there was one cafe that was promoting itself as a cafe and work space (Kinyei Cafe).
Battambang isn’t a good hub city if you travel a lot as you will be spending hours getting to the nearest airport (Siem Reap). Instead, Battambang is a great place if you want to stay somewhere to get some work done. I would nominate Battambang as a place for writers to work.
The best place for coffee (correct at the time of my visit) is at Kinyei Cafe. They get their coffee from Feel Good (a cafe in Phnom Penh) so I knew it was going to be a good coffee. I ended up getting my caffeine fix here every morning.
The next best coffee is at Jaan Bai, which is a well-recommended restaurant that supports the Cambodian Children’s Trust.
For enjoying the outdoors I liked The River, which is situated on the bank of the river near the Old Stone Bridge.
On one of my wanders I stumbled into a bar/pizza restaurant called the River Balcony, which is tucked away in the south of the city. This bar is in an old wooden house set in a lush garden and overlooking the river.
Battambang is great budget option in what is already a budget country. Here you can still find guesthouses for $5 a night.
Ganesh guesthouse is ideally located in the old area and has a great backpackers vibe. While you can find a cheaper guesthouse outside the old area Ganesh feels like a true backpackers place where you can meet travellers downstairs in the bar.
I also stayed at the Shang Hai Guest House, which is about 10 minutes walk from the old area.
For a special stay it’s hard to go past Bric-a-Brac B&B, which is a hotel in the heart of the colonial district with just three rooms. Robert and Morrison are an artist/writer duo who have made Battambang their home, and they will make you feel at home during your stay. The hotel also includes a shop with unique gifts and curios which is worth a visit for souvenir shopping.
For more accommodation options search the Agoda Battambang hotels list.
Travelfish: Battambang Travel Guide – Comprehensive online guide with the option of buying an expanded PDF guide.
All About Battambang – Travel information for Battambang with city and province maps, what to do and see, travel stories and video’s.
Battambang Cambodia – More than just the bamboo train – nomadasaurus.com.
By the river opposite the central market is a nightly food market. It feels touristy but who cares with such a location. If you go further south along the river you will find another market with street food without english menus.
There are a collection of cafes and restaurants in Battambang that are attached to charitable and volunteer organisations. I visited Coconut Water which provide education projects, and they make a great vegetarian lok lak.
BBQ Chicken Truck
On the east bank of the river, opposite the central market is a food truck that serves BBQ chicken with sticky rice and papaya salad. It sounds similar to what you could have in Thailand though the Cambodian papaya salad is done in a different style to Thailand.
Battambang Photo Gallery – My photo gallery of Battambang.