Dec 16 2011
Christmas is the height of the tourist season in Siem Reap and when the temples are mobbed, the streets are mobbed, the bars and restaurants are mobbed, it can seem like the only escape from the crowds is in your bed. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, even that’s busy! For those seeking a quieter time this holiday season and across the New Year, a better bet (especially if you’re not in the mood for an island getaway) might be Battambang.
Cambodia’s second city is not Siem Reap, but Battambang, the capital of a province that is the breadbasket of the country. It’s a busy town that retains its colonial heritage and Cambodian identity all at once, and is surrounded by lush, green, breathtaking countryside. You couldn’t describe it as fantastically beautiful, and there’s not a great deal to do, but Battambang is very charming, and if you’re looking for an escape from the crowds, then it’s the perfect answer (we covered a weekend away here some time ago).
However, that’s not to say that there is nothing at all to do in Battambang, au contraire. As the home of the very highly reputed Phare Ponleu Selpak arts and circus school, Battambang is vying hard to compete with Phnom Penh as the artistic hub of Cambodia. New galleries are popping up, starting off with Sammaki, and plenty more are promised by the energetic young talents that graduate every year from this school. Moreover, one of the highlights of visiting Battambang and, indeed, Cambodia, has got to be the regular circus show. Schedules are available in town, or ask your hotel to call 012 890 360.
For a different kind of artistry, hitch a ride on a moto out of town and explore the gorgeous countryside around Battambang. This is nothing like the rest of Cambodia, and you can boost your spiritual as well as your natural desires by visiting a number of hilltop pagodas. Phnom Sampeou, Phnom Banan and Ek Phnom all offer exceptional views of the countryside, and beautiful insights into Cambodian architecture (without the $20 fee at the Angkor Park). And with this many steps to get up to see them, you’ll be boosting your behind at the same time. If you’ve only got time for one, we recommend Phnom Sampeou.
There are some surprisingly good restaurants in Battambang as well. If you feel like you deserve a treat, then The Villa, a beautiful colonial building restored with wonderful art deco flourishes, is where you should head. Here, the menu is short and well thought out and at this time of year dining in the garden is gorgeous.
One of our favourites is also The Apple of Love (Pomme d’Amour). Small and sweet, this French/Khmer restaurant is very romantic, and the dishes are inventive and beautifully presented.
Battambang has a lot to offer those who take the step of going there; get there now, before the crowds start to follow you. Make it your Christmas present to yourself.
To get there, either take the ferry across the Tonle Sap lake and along the Sangkor River which connects directly to Battambang. At this time of year, the waters are still high and the trip a relatively short six to eight hours. Tickets are $18 to $25 per person. This is a fabulous opportunity to see the some of the floating villages of the Tonle Sap, including Prek Toal, which is adjacent to a bird sanctuary which is at its most populous at this time of year, so keep a look out.
If you’re in a hurry, the trip by road is quicker and cheaper at about three hours and $5. If you can, we thoroughly recommend taking the ferry.
185 Pom Romchek 5 Kom
Rattanak Srok, Battambang
T : (053) 730 151, (017) 411 880
Apple of Love (Pomme d’Amour)
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