Long considered Cambodia’s second city, Battambang has really taken off in the past few years. No longer a sleepy backwater, there are several new boutique hotels, and the number of foreign visitors is rising fast. As a glimpse of real Cambodia, beyond the tourist centres of Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, it is a very attractive destination thanks to its well-preserved architecture and lifestyle experiences in the countryside beyond.
The Hanuman team takes a look at some new attractions and activities in and around Battambang which are helping to put the second city back on the map.
Battambang Architecture Tours
KA Architecture Tour (www.ka-tours.org) of Phnom Penh have come up with two heritage architecture tours of Battambang for visitors. Maps are available online, including a Walking Map Central (http://www.ka-tours.org/MAP2%20bb%20central.pdf) and a Walking Map South (http://www.ka-tours.org/MAP3%20bb%20south.pdf) and each tour takes from 1 to 2 hours. They can be combined together for a half day experience from Psar Nat to the Governor’s Residence. For those with less time available, it is also possible to cycle either route or combine them together in half the time. Hanuman will introduce these tours to our guides in the run-up to guide training in September and will operate a practical visit as part of the tour guide training workshop.
Old architecture abounds in Battambang
Heritage House and Homestay
The Wat Kor area of Battambang to the north of the centre on the road to Wat Banan includes some one hundred-year old wooden houses. One of these is open to the public for a small donation and is known as the Heritage House. The family still lives here and is happy to show visitors around. The mother is very friendly and speaks French, although our tour guide will need to interpret in English for non-French speakers. It is a large wooden house with lots of antique furniture. Overnight homestays are also possible in two basic rooms with fan and mosquito net. The clean bathroom is shared. Meals are also available, making this a good option for a home-style group meal for larger parties.
The Bamboo Train
Currently, the Bamboo Train is still operating, but it may come off the rails at any time, as the Australian contractor Toll is currently rehabilitating stretches of the line between Phnom Penh and Battambang . Our Operations Team is in regular contact with our Battambang network for the latest updates. There are rumours that the Battambang Tourism Department may try to reconstruct a 5km stretch of line to allow these Bamboo Trains to keep running for tourists. Hanuman will keep you posted on developments here.
Battambang's unique Bamboo Train in action
Soksabike (www.soksabike.com) bicycle tour is a social enterprise offering people an insight into the traditional livelihoods of the Cambodian countryside. They place an emphasis on educating guests in the realities of life in rural Cambodia, and ensure that the visit makes a positive impact on the local communities – economically, socially and ecologically. The cycling guides are all Battambang locals. Soksabike have created a unique bicycle tour that provides an imaginative insight into the Cambodian countryside and daily life but also supports local the local economy and culture. The trip stops at a rice paper making village, a wine making village, a village that makes Prahok (fermented fish paste) and a cake making village. The trail follows quiet, flat, partially shaded country roads and the total distance travelled is 25-30 kms. This will be a good alternative to the Bamboo Train as and when this finally stops running.
Explore the Battambang countryside on two wheels
Smoking Pot Cookery Class
As an alternative to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, it is also possible to do a cookery class in Battambang. Long-established Smokin’ Pot offers a half-day course that is notably cheaper than those on offer in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Designed more with backpackers in mind, it might be fun for guests that want something a bit more informal.
Accommodation in Battambang
There has been a real boom in accommodation in Battambang in the past few years. Many of the new hotels are tall, modern buildings without much personality and not really suitable for discerning clients. However, there are some excellent boutique hotels that work really well. Here are the current hotels we recommend:
Bambu Hotel (http://www.bambuhotel.com) Best top-end place with tasteful rooms and spacious outdoor areas.
La Villa (http://www.lavilla-battambang.net/) Another top choice for colonial atmosphere, sadly some tall buildings now surround them.
Sanctuary Villa (http://sanctuaryvilla.derlengtours.com/) French-run resort in quiet backstreets, popular with French clients.
Maisons Wat Kor (http://maisonswatkor.com/) Styled like a boutique village in the attractive suburb of Wat Kor.
Banan Hotel (http://www.bananhotel.doodlekit.com/home) Good budget option that now includes a rooftop swimming pool.
Dining in Battambang
Gecko Cafe: Set in a gorgeous colonial-era building, the menu covers all stops and it’s an atmospheric place to linger for a bite.
Pomme d’Amour: Classic little French bistro with tender steaks and sophisticated sauces.
La Villa: The most impressive dining room in town, with fine Asian and international dining in cultured surrounds.
Fresh Eats Cafe: NGO restaurant to help HIV/AIDS affected families. Cambodian and international food.
Sunrise Coffee House: Fantastic selection of international comfort food, including homemade cakes.
White Rose: Old favourite with the best fruit shakes in town.
Battambang is now well-connected to all major destinations in the region. The road to Phnom Penh has some bumpy stretches around Krakor in Pursat Province, but is otherwise fine, taking about four to five hours. The new road to Pailin (83km, one hour) is excellent and on to the Thai border. The road to Sisophon (69km, less than one hour) is also very good, allowing for a two to three hour transfer to Siem Reap.