First published 21st March, 2011
It may be Cambodia's second-largest city, but Battambang, a sleepy burg connected to the Tonle Sap by the Sangkor River, retains a unique small-town charm and makes for a great weekend getaway from Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. Battambang province is steeped in dramatic history, with ownership going back and forth between Siam, Cambodia and the French. In the 90s, the areas around the city were one of the last holdouts of the Khmer Rouge. Despite its turbulent past, Battambang has an allure that's all its own, from the early 20th century French colonial buildings and 1960s Khmer architecture to Cambodian cuisine with a distinct Thai influence.
Dinner at La Villa
Located on the banks of the Sangkor River in a beautifully restored French colonial building from the 1930s, La Villa restaurant offers French, Khmer and Italian dishes in lovely surroundings. Sit by candlelight in the garden, or inside under the gorgeous glass and steel conservatory rooftop where the walls are adorned with photographs and artifacts from French Indochina. You'll delight in some of the best service you'll find in Cambodia and enjoy the specialities of the house including pork with caramel sauce ($6.50) or fillet of fish with a lemon sauce and a side of dauphinoise potatoes ($8.50). The beef lasagna with a garden salad ($6.50) is excellent, and perhaps the highest compliment is that you'll momentarily forget you're in Cambodia while eating it.
N 185 Pom Romchek 5 Kom, Rattanak Srok.
T: (053) 730 151
Drinks at Bus Stop
Battambang isn't known for its nightlife, but if you're looking for a few pints to wind down after dinner, stop by Bus Stop. The new owners, Gary, an Australian, and his Khmer wife, pride themselves on having the coldest beers in town, and perhaps the country. Pints of Angkor draft are just $1 and it's a good place to meet other travellers for a chat.
149 Street 2
T: (053) 730 544, (017) 531 365
Khmer Photo Studio
If you've ever wondered what life would be like as a Khmer princess, start your day at any of the dozens of photo studios in town and spend an hour with the locals getting makeup shellacked on and ridiculously coiffed and ringletted hair. Once the makeover is complete, dress in Khmer formal wear or traditional apsara dance costume for your photo shoot. Pictures cost around $2 each and include airbrushing and the addition of comical backgrounds, many of them distinctly Khmer.
Sangker Photo Studio
74-76 Street 2, South of Psar Nath
T: (053) 690 7003; (053) 952 511
Open daily, 7:00-19:00.
Lunch at White Rose
The White Rose has become something of a lunchtime institution in Battambang, serving up cheap Cambodian grub to tourists and Khmers alike in a restaurant bedecked with plastic vines and fruits. Locals claim that they give menus with higher prices to the tourists, but even if they do, the prices are still low and you'll have a good meal for $2-3. Sit inside to avoid the beggars and be patient, the staff are remarkably apathetic.
The White Rose
On the corner of 2nd street, two blocks south of Psar Nath
T: (012) 964 091
Hire a tuk tuk for $10-15 to take you to the countryside outside of Battambang city. Your first stop should be at Prasat Phnom Banan Winery, Cambodia's only winery. Tastings cost $1 and include a red wine that is a mix of cabernet and shiraz, brandy and grape juice. Although you may not be seriously tempted to bring any of of their creations home, it's still worth a visit if only to see the vineyards flanked by palm trees.
Prasat Phnom Banan Winery
Bat Sala Village, outside of Battambang city
T: (012) 665 238. Open daily, 8:00-18:00.
A smaller more dilapidated version of Angkor Wat located 25km outside of Battambang, Wat Banan is a hilltop temple accessible by 350-odd steps and surrounded by picturesque paddy fields. Many of the carvings have been looted or are housed in the Battambang museum but it's an impressive structure nonetheless, with five carved towers of increasingly dubious stability. Dotted with frangipani plants and brightly-coloured flowers, the temple, which was built in the 11th century, is popular with local teenagers and picnicking Khmer families. Bring a bottle of water for the climb up the stairs. Admission is $2 (if you plan to go to Wat Phnom Sampeau, get a receipt as it's good for admittance there as well).
Despite rumours that it would be closed down at the end of 2010, the fabled bamboo railroad is still going strong, although it's now said to be set to be closed at some point in April. Whether that will actually happen remains to be seen, but get a ride while you can on the improvised train line where the cars are constructed of axles with recycled wheels and a bamboo frame and powered by a small motor. Traditionally used by locals to move goods on train tracks that were only visited by a train erratically, you're now more likely to see nice German couples taking in the countryside. This doesn't diminish from the pleasure of rushing along the tracks at 15 km that feel like 40. Time it right to take in the sunset and make it back to Battambang by dark. Prices are generally $5 per person — if you're quoted a higher price, firmly negotiate downwards.
Dinner at Riverside Balcony
Popular with local expats, Riverside balcony is a great place to relax and enjoy the evening calm of Battambang. The veranda is adorned with soft lighting and the menu — Western burgers and pizzas — is slightly expensive but very good. It's also a comfortable place to linger over a bottle or two of Angkor on a comfy couch and take in the tropical nighttime atmosphere. Check your change when you leave as some of the staff don't always return the full amount.
Riverside Balcony Bar
Street 1, on the west bank of the river south of town.
T: (012) 437 421; (053) 730 313. Open 16:00-late.
Breakfast at the Battambang Vegetarian Restaurant
Start your Sunday morning off right with the special at Battambang Vegetarian Restaurant. This Chi-mai (Chinese Khmer) eatery serves a variety of vegetarian dishes featuring faux-meats but it's their Sunday morning breakfast that stands out. Curry served with Khmer rice noodles or bread costs just 3,500 riel, less than a dollar. The rice with vegetarian meats for 3,000 riel is also delicious. Wash it down with homemade soy milk, sweetened or not at your request.
Battambang Vegetarian Restaurant
T: (012) 642 234; (012) 501 438
Open daily, 7:00-11:00.
There are three cooking classes in town, but the oldest and most popular is at the Smokin' Pot restaurant — although all have a similar format and price of $8-10. Spend the morning touring Psar Nat for ingredients and then come back and cook three dishes off the menu. By the time you're done you'll have earned the resulting enormous Khmer lunch. You'll also get a recipe booklet to take home so you can get a taste of Battambang anytime you'd like.
229, Group 8, 20 Ousephea Village, Battambang. (Near Angkor Hotel)
T: 012 821 400. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Book at least one day in advance for a class.
650, Group 32, Prekmohatep, Svaypor, Battambang.
T: (012) 763 950.
Meet at Royal Hotel, Just west of Psar Nath Market
T: (012) 639 350
Where to stay:
Royal Hotel, is the backpacker pitstop in Battambang. Cheap, clean and easy.
Banon Hotel, an excellent mid-range hotel with spotless rooms and lovely staff.
La Villa, a gorgeous French colonial building that was lovingly restored makes for the poshest option in town.
Capitol Tours run buses on the hour from Phnom Penh to Battambang for 19,000 riel. The return ticket costs 18,000 riel. More information on getting to and from Battambang.
Story by Lina Goldberg
Read 1 comment(s)
Add your comment
Feature story quicklinks
- Giving back in Southeast Asia (12)
- All stories
- COPE: Helping people move on
- Epic Arts
- Helping Phuket's children in need
- Helping Siem Reap's rubbish dump families
- Helping Singapore's transient workers
- Helping the Karen of Burma
- Humanitarian Services for Children of Vietnam
- Lifestart Foundation, Hoi An
- Swim Vietnam
- Thai Freedom House, Chiang Mai
- The Samui Prison Project
- The SET Foundation
- Burma (7)
- Cambodia (22)
- All stories
- A Cambodian Eco-lodge
- A honeymoon in Cambodia
- Angkorian traffic woes
- Battambang weekend
- Elephant riding in Cambodia: Should you?
- Great places to stay in Siem Reap
- Is Preah Vihear safe to visit?
- Koh Rong: Trouble in paradise?
- Kompong Cham escape
- Northeast Cambodia in photos
- Oh Poipet!
- PEPY:Sustainable Cambodian tourism
- Phnom Tamao Wildlife Refuge
- Sihanoukville beaches lure expats
- Spas, shopping & seers in Siem Reap
- The best islands in Cambodia
- The best places to stay on Cambodia's islands
- The Death Highway
- Trekking in Virachey National Park
- Trekking the Cardamoms in Cambodia
- Which Cambodian island is right for you?
- Why you should go to Cambodia
- Indonesia (13)
- All stories
- A funeral in Toraja, Sulawesi
- Climbing Rinjani
- How to hire a boat in Indonesia: Without drowning
- Learn to surf in Bali
- Medewi: A great Bali getaway
- Mountain biking in Bali: A ride in the woods
- The Gili islands: Which is the right one for you?
- Ubud bird watching: From waterhens to witchcraft
- Ubud shopping guide
- Village trekking in Tana Toraja
- Weekend in Nusa Penida
- Yogya's student scene
- Laos (16)
- All stories
- A breeze through Luang Prabang
- Best budget rooms in Luang Prabang 2013
- Elephant trekking in Laos
- Exploring Laos' Bolaven Plateau
- Huay Xai to Pak Tha by slowboat
- Is Lao Airlines safe to fly?
- Laos' vanishing elephants
- Luang Prabang escape
- Muang Ngoi Escape
- Photos of Luang Prabang, Laos
- Pi Mai Lao in Luang Prabang: In 1999
- Southern Laos by scooter
- Temples in Luang Prabang
- The Gibbon Experience
- The Phonsavan adventure
- Vientiane's Chinatown
- Malaysia (7)
- Singapore (9)
- Thailand (72)
- All stories
- 10 Bangkok galleries worth a look-see
- 10 Thai treks aside from Chiang Mai
- 24 Hours in Bangkok: Sukhumvit to Siam Square
- 5 Southern Thai towns to lose time in
- A Thai homestay in Ayutthaya
- A weekend in Phra Phradaeng
- A weekend on Ko Samet, Thailand
- An extra day in Krabi
- Andaman Sea island hopper
- Ayutthaya temple tour
- Bangkok for art lovers
- Bangkok's Charoen Krung Road
- Bangkok's Thonburi: exploring the west side
- Brilliant Bangkok
- Chiang Dao getaway
- Chiang Mai's temples
- Corruption in Thailand
- Eating on the edge
- Elephant's World Kanchanaburi
- Exploring Lamphun
- Exploring the Lungs of Bangkok
- Far southern Thailand: Go or not?
- Five days in Khao Lak, Thailand
- Floating markets around Bangkok
- Highlights of Chanthaburi province
- How to do Khao Yai National Park
- Khao San Road safety and scams
- Ko Mun Nork: a nearby paradise
- Ko Pha Ngan 7-day detox:Colonic fast
- Ko Pha Ngan's best beaches in 2013
- Ko Phi Phi on a budget
- Ko Tao for non-divers guide
- Ko Yao: the islands you're looking for
- Learning Muay Thai in Bangkok
- Motorcycling the Chiang Rai loop
- Narathiwat: residence of good people
- Navigating Bangkok: The BTS Skytrain
- Phuket by night
- Phuket for Kids
- Phuket heritage walk: Car parts to saris
- Phuket's secret beaches
- Planning around Thailand's civil unrest
- Roll your own Kanchanaburi
- Should I book for the full moon party?
- Should I cancel my Thai holiday? No.
- Should I cancel my trip to Thailand? No.
- Soi Thong Lo, Bangkok
- Sorting out Suvarnabhumi Airport
- Staying at a Thai monastery
- Thai islands for nature lovers
- Thai islands to lose yourself on
- Thai visa FAQ
- Thailand tsunami wrap
- Thailand's Mae Khlong market
- Thailand: Where to from here?
- The best beach on Ko Samui
- The best places to stay on Ko Kut, Thailand
- The bridge over the River Kwai festival
- The road to Sangkhlaburi
- Travelling through north-east Thailand
- Trekking in Thailand
- Trisara -- decadent luxury at its best
- Two days in Kamphaeng Phet
- What is the best beach on Ko Tao?
- What is the best island in Thailand?
- What's a good beach on Ko Pha Ngan?
- What's a good beach on Ko Samui?
- Where to stay at Railay Bay, Thailand
- Where to stay in Sukhothai?
- Where to stay on Ko Samet, Thailand
- Which beach on Ko Samui?
- Which island in Trang?
- Vietnam (31)
- All stories
- A short break in Nha Trang
- A Weekend in Can Tho
- Being fed Fido: Eating dog in Vietnam
- Buying a touring motorbike in Vietnam
- Con Dao escape
- Do nothing and see the best of Hanoi
- Doing the DMZ from Hue
- Exploring Kon Tum
- Exploring Vietnam's Mekong Delta
- Ha Long Bay conclusions
- Ha Long Bay for backpackers
- Ha Long Bay for budget-busters
- Ha Long Bay for flashpackers
- Hanoi escape
- Hanoi or Saigon?
- Hoi An -- Walking over the dragon
- How to do the Dien Bien Phu loop
- How to enjoy your time in Vietnam
- How to pick a good Ha Long Bay cruise
- Is the Hoi An culture tour worth it?
- Motorbike Vietnam's Central Highlands
- One day in Hanoi
- Responsible shopping and eating in Hoi An
- Saigon's top 10 cafés
- Sapa or Bac Ha?
- Saving Vietnam's bears
- Street food safety
- The DMZ: Traveller tactical briefing
- Travel tips for Tet in Vietnam 2013
- Two Wheels & Ricefields: A review
- Which is the best street food tour in Hanoi?
- Accommodation guides (21)
- All stories
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Chiang Mai
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Hanoi
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Phnom Penh
- 2006 Top guesthouses on Ko Phi Phi
- 2006 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top Bangkok airport guesthouses
- 2008 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top spots on Phu Quoc Island
- 2009 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2009 Top Phnom Penh guesthouses
- 2011 Best places to stay in Kuala Lumpur
- 2011 Best places to stay on Ko Phi Phi
- Best places to stay in Hanoi 2012
- Cheap Phuket guesthouses & hotels
- Five special hotels in Cambodia
- Ko Lipe's best budget guesthouses 2012
- The best hostels in Bangkok 2014
- The best places to stay on Ko Chang, Thailand
- The changing face of Khao San Road
- Where to stay on Koh Rong Samloem
- Travel with kids (7)
- Opinion & advice (15)
- All stories
- 10 reasons to do an adventure tour
- 10 reasons to travel independently
- A year's worth of travel for 2013
- Beach hideaways in Asia
- Christmas and New Years in Southeast Asia
- Do I need reservations for my holiday?
- Evil man of Krabi
- Fifteen tips for a great holiday in Asia
- Getting a cheap airfare to Asia
- Hotels should never charge extra for WiFi
- Long distance buses in Southeast Asia
- Mass tourism in Southeast Asia
- Nine Asian upcountry hideaways
- Planning a Gap Year? Some advice.
- Ten Southeast Asian trips for 2008
- How do I? (11)
- All stories
- Bangkok to Ko Samui, Pha Ngan & Tao
- Bangkok to Siem Reap
- Catching a train in Thailand
- Catching a train in Vietnam
- Cheap flights with Discovery Airpass
- Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang
- Crossing the Cambodia Laos border
- Ko Chang to Phu Quoc Island
- Siem Reap to Ko Chang
- Stops between Bangkok & Chiang Mai
- Visa run from Thailand to Burma
- Cycling Asia (13)
- All stories
- 24 hours in Bangkok
- An Angkor cycling guide
- An introduction
- Battambang, bamboo trains & guides
- Confessions of a "cheating cyclist"
- Cycles of all sorts
- Ha Long Bay independently
- Ko Samet Vs Pattaya
- Muay Thai night
- Phonsavan and Luang Prabang
- The hills of Vietnam
- The road less travelled
- Tubing in Vang Vieng
- Health and safety (6)
- Money and finance (4)
- Diving guides (6)
- Photo essay (3)
- Guest blog (2)
- General (15)
- All stories
- 10 Christmas days in Asia we're yet to have
- 10 dumb things I've done while travelling
- 34 ways to travel greener
- Asian animal experiences
- Call me Mr Massage Magic
- Chefs Without Borders
- Flying is fun!
- Mr Golden
- On being a travel writer
- Teaching ESL in Asia
- The 211 country honeymoon
- The Boxing Day Tsunami: 5 years on.
- To Teach or Not to Teach
- Travel writing scholarship 2012
- Tuk to the Road Charity ride
- Book reviews (5)
- Interviews (8)
- Explore Bangkok by BTS (16)
- All stories
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ari
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chid Lom
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chong Nonsi
- Bangkok by skytrain: Mo Chit
- Bangkok by skytrain: National Stadium
- Bangkok by skytrain: On Nut
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phaya Thai
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phloen Chit
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phrom Phong
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchadamri
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchathewi
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sala Daeng (S2)
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sanam Pao
- Bangkok by skytrain: Saphan Taksin
- Bangkok by skytrain: Surasak
- Bangkok by skytrain: Thong Lor
Sign up for Travelfish Burp!
Our weekly wrap on Southeast Asian travel.
Click here to see a recent newsletter.