Bamboo train - Battambang
Wat Ek Phnom, one of many great temples to check out in Battambang!
Wat Ek Phnom

It’s probably fair to assume you haven’t heard of this magical city called Battambang. The city is usually overlooked by travelers jetting straight to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. However, I’m here to give you some resources to get to include Battambang in your itinerary without losing any extra days. The city was easily my favorite in the country, and I really hope you don’t let it go overlooked!

Battambang Overview

Battambang is the third largest city in Cambodia, sitting southwest of Siem Reap and Tonlé Sap. Originally created as a trading city along the Sangkae River, Battambang has been annexed and ceded on numerous occasions. In 1775, Battambang, along with other regions in Northwestern Cambodia, was annexed as a part of Thailand (then Siam), where Khmer and Thai were then used interchangeably. Battambang was ceded as a part of French Indochina in the early 1900s and rejoined the rest of Cambodia again. The city only became free of direct outside influence when Cambodia gained its independence in 1953 and has developed as an integral city since.

In my time in Battambang, I noticed a significant French speaking population compared to other parts of the country, both tourists and locals alike. It was my first time I had to try to manage my level of non-existent French to communicate with the numerous French, Swiss and Canadian (Quebecois) tourists. Despite my language challenges, the city was easily my favorite in the country. There is more than enough to do that I felt were relatively unique compared to my other Cambodian experiences. Make sure to get Battambang on your Cambodian itinerary!

Getting There

When I was in Battambang in 2022, there were two main ways to get to the city. You can take a bus from either Siem Reap or Phnom Penh, or a train from Phnom Penh. The main bus companies are Sorya, Virak Buntham, Bayon, Mekong Express and Giant Ibis. Many of these companies will be recommended if you’re staying at a hostel, and a lot of the time your hostel can sort our your transportation for you. Just make sure to show up a 15-20 minutes early!

Both the train and bus options are relatively cheap, but if you’re like me, you’ll go for the train to take in the amazing views of Cambodia’s countryside. The train can be slightly uncomfortable, but it’s truly breathtaking. Make sure to check out my article on everything to know about the Royal Railways!

Unfortunately, flying isn’t an option. The airport is no longer used for commercial purposes, so just make sure you plan that accordingly. The railway from Battambang to the Thai border isn’t finished, or at least not currently operational. So, if you want to go to Bangkok from Battambang, you’ll have to take a bus all the way there, or head to Siem Reap or Phnom Penh and fly. Basically, I’d recommend not leaving Battambang as your last stop.

Some cows and rice fields on the way to Battambang

Where to Stay

During my time in Battambang, I stayed at The Place. The hostel is reasonably priced, and has a rooftop bar and breakfast options. Despite the size of the rooms, the beds and bathrooms are some of the nicest I had for a hostel in Southeast Asia. While you will deal with your normal hostel shenanigans, The Place is definitely one of the safer options if you want a good night sleep.

However, when I was in the city, The Place was the only hostel available. Hostelworld has a couple more options to choose from, with some even cheaper than The Place. Airbnb has some bungalow or hotel-type options that are reasonably priced. If you’re traveling with friends or a partner, an Airbnb might not be much more expensive. Just something to keep in mind if you’re not a huge fan of hostels. Check out all your options before coming, and don’t be afraid to switch hostels! If you stay for a night, and you’re really not a big fan, see if you can cancel. If not, consider switching and taking the loss. It’s always worth enjoying your stay for a couple extra dollars.

Things to Do in Battambang

While I’m usually not a huge fan of tours in any capacity, my day tour in Battambang was one of the few I really enjoyed. My hostel offered a bunch of different tour options and they were all reasonably priced. If you want to do everything on your own pace, here’s some of the things we did.

Bamboo Train

One of the biggest reasons why I chose to go to Battambang was to take a ride on the bamboo train. I heard about the makeshift form of transportation on a documentary at least ten years ago, and it was one of my initial reasons for wanting to go to Cambodia in the first place. The train was set up as a means for local farmers to bring in crops from the countryside to sell in the city in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge.

The train costs $5 USD and can hit up to speeds of around 25 mph (40 kmh). You get taken for a 10-15 minute ride where you can get off and stop for some snacks and a drink. Then you turn around and come back.

If you can see in the photo there’s only one set of tracks. But the train system doesn’t run one way. So whenever the “trains” are set to collide, they have to be taken off and then reassembled on the other side of the each other to continue on their way.

Battambang Killing Fields

Smaller than the killing fields in Phnom Penh, but still worth the visit. A vivid and graphic history of the killing fields in Battambang are inscribed on all sides of the stupa. It can be a lot to take in, so be prepared and take a step back if you need to. When I went, there was a volunteer collecting donations. I would recommend leaving around 10k-20k riel ($2.5-5).

The famous bamboo train in Battambang
Kralan – sweet sticky rice with coconut milk and soybeans cooked in bamboo!
Around 1 million bats fly out every night at sunset

Bat Cave, Killing Cave, Phnom Sampov

Given the bats fly out at sunset, it’s probably best to save the bat cave, the killing cave and Phnom Sampov for the end of the day. Phnom Sampov is a stunning temple complex that you can wonder around and get a great view of Battambang from the top. Our guide knew the best places to get some amazing pictures and was able to give us a bit of a history of the temples and the killing caves. He also taught us some Khmer for how to respectfully greet older monks. Afterwards, you can meander to the bottom of the hill to catch the bats at sunset. Easily one of the most stunning scenes I’ve witnessed. Great for some amazing pictures and an opportunity to see a truly unique sight. I had never seen so many bats fly out at once- we were told it was over a million!

What to Bring

Reusable Water Bottle

This is something I will always recommend for every city I travel to. While the water might not always be safe to drink from the tap, you can often find jugs in your hostel or in restaurants. If a filtered water bottle is a bit out of your price range, go for a large one, like a Hydrapeak (what I use). There’s often enough places where you can fill it up that you won’t need to worry. Just ask someone at your hostel or a fellow traveler!

Rain Jacket

If you’re going to Southeast Asia during the rainy season, a good rain jacket is a must. I made the very silly mistake and forgot to pack mine, and I ended up just using plastic ponchos. This is the jacket I have, and I would definitely recommend getting something similar.

Travel Backpack

I personally use a Tortuga backpack and I would highly recommend it to anyone. You can’t go wrong with a lot of the high-quality travel backpacks out there, but I would definitely recommend avoiding a suitcase. Battambang is not a city that you can easily hop in and hop out as your only travel destination. It will likely require you to travel from another city, and that becomes especially challenging lugging around a suitcase. I know it’s always hard, but do your best to pack light and pack smart!

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