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Battambang, Cambodia

Traditionally Cambodia’s 2nd largest city, the western town of Battambang has surely been overtaken by now by booming Siem Reap and although still relatively prosperous from the Province’s fine farming land, (indeed it’s sometimes known as ‘Cambodia’s rice bowl’), it has been largely bypassed by the country’s tourism boom. Well until recently that is but these days Battambang’s definitely an up and coming destination for visitors to the Kingdom.

French colonial buildings on the riverfront
French colonial buildings on the riverfront

With the new arrivals in recent years the town’s cafe and restaurant scene, previously pretty limited,  has seen a flurry of openings with new coffee shops, more tourist orientated bars and a wide variety of eateries including Indian restaurants; bakeries, fine French dining, excellent Khmer fare, Thai, Chinese, of course the usual pizzas and burgers etc and even a creperie.

One of the cafes in Battambang's up and coming 2 and a half street!
One of the cafes in Battambang’s up and coming 2 and a half street!

There’s also far more choice hotel-wise than there used to be and what’s more they’re filling up these days. Transport links are good with a 2 hour ride on a decent road taking you to the Thai border at Pong Nam Ron or a 5 hour bus ride to Phnom Penh and of course the scenic boat trip between Siem Reap and Battambang is still going strong.

Sangkar River near Battambang
Sangkar River near Battambang

Battambang of course has always been surrounded by some wonderful countryside and there are several picturesque Angkor period temple sites to visit plus the town’s most famous attraction,  the ‘Bamboo Train‘ is still going strong, but these days there are more alternatives, as well as more structure, to tourism options in Battambang.  Locals are now organising cycling, motorbike, walking programmes: heritage tours of the city; countryside and village visits including local handicrafts and cottage industries, there’s kayaking trips on the Sangkar and even the popular Khmer cooking class options.

Rural scene outside of town, Battambang
Rural scene outside of town, Battambang

So, whilst we always used to reckon that the best thing about Battambang was the boat ride to get there, we’ve now decided to add an extra day in town to all our Cambodia tour itineraries passing that way; Cambodia OverlandRuined Cities and Tropical Islands and our Cambodia and Mekong Delta tour, Saigon to Phnom Penh. The Battambang section will now run as follows:

Arrival by boat, freshen up and perhaps sundowners by the riverfront before a Khmer dinner. The next day we’ll begin with a Bamboo train ride, (that’ll wake everyone up!), followed by some free time to wander the town at your leisure exploring the old streets; maybe taking in the Museum or Central Market and perhaps checking out one of the coffee shops?

Old Chinese style shop-houses - you could be in Penang or Malacca!
Old Chinese style shop-houses – you could be in Penang or Malacca!

In the afternoon we’ll do a short cycling tour organised by local students which will take you through the suburbs and outlying villages with opportunities to discover some of the traditional handicrafts and cottage industries as well as meeting some of the very friendly locals. Your second dinner in town will be a ‘free’ one allowing you to choose from Battambang’s growing food scene.

Juice bar
Juice bar

Cheers!