I get it, Siem Reap is Cambodia’s tourist draw, and for good reasons, first among all being the stunning Angkor Wat archaeological park nearby. However, the fascinating Southeast Asian country definitely has other cities that are interesting under different points of view, be it historical or to delve deeper into its traditions, such as Battambang, capital of its namesake province. After visiting, here are my suggestions on the best things to do in Battambang should you happen there.
Top things to do in Battambang
Battambang local market
First thing I would recommend, as I always do anywhere I go, is to visit Battambang’s local market, a real explosion of colors, sounds and smells, in a nutshell, of daily-life moments. It’s the type of place where you can find anything you are looking for and more, from tailors who can sew and fix your clothes, food to take away, fresh fruits and veggies, fish, eggs, grasshoppers and all sorts of Cambodian delicacies.
Bamboo Train trip
Maybe instead of bamboo “train” it can be called bamboo “wagon” as you’ll be traveling on single carriages, albeit engine-based rather than ox-drawn ones, but it’s definitely one of the best things to do in Battambang. Running along the ancient railways not operative anymore, you will inevitably go past traditional villages, meet locals playing with cards and watching the never-missing TV, drink freshly squeezed sugarcane juice and, obviously, be literally immersed in unspoilt nature.
Phnom Sampeau and Killing Caves
Among the things to do in Battambang there is a temple complex beside a painfully notorious site belonging to Cambodian modern history at about 14 km from the city. All throughout my trip, the years under the Khmer Rouge rule were some sort of leitmotif, a tragic theme that occurred every now and then. Here, there are what have been called “killing or death caves”, where it is said the Khmer Rouge officials used to drop the bodies of the people they had either just killed or to kill them altogether. Former Buddhist site then used as killing caves, now the place has been restored to its original function yet keeping alive the mark of the country’s tragic past with a display of bones and skulls on the bottom of the cave.
Wat Ek Phnom
Located some 10 km from Battambang, Ek Phnom temple is a must-see for anyone visiting this city. A huge statue of a white-stone sitting Buddha welcomes the visitors and leads them to a new, overdecorated pagoda that opens the way to the ruins of the ancient Wat Ek Phnom, dating back to the Bayon period. Beautiful carvings and temple life surrounded by an almost untouched nature complete the rural Cambodia scene enhanced by monks’ orange tunics hanging here and there to dry and locals working on the banks of the river.
Who doesn’t like a good glass of wine? That’s right, wineries can be visited in Cambodia too, not only in Italy and France! Cambodian wines might be different from European ones, but the experience of seeing the place where the grape juice is produced is worth a stop at Battambang’s only winery. Walk along the cute grape-lined vineyards and enjoy a chat with locals and tourists, all made more cheerful probably by the eventuality of a future wine tasting.
All these spots are easy to reach as any tuk-tuk driver will offer you to take you and stay with you for the whole day, and depending on who you find, the trip will be made more precious by the tales and anedoctes the driver will share with you about Cambodia and his own life.
No matter how many days you will stay in Battambang, at night do not miss a stroll along the river for a delicious and ridiculously cheap Cambodian dinner followed by the intense taste of local milky coconut, apparently typical from Battambang, with an incredibly thick and flavorful meat.
Many are the things to do in Battambang, because in this fast developing tourist destination, not only Siem Reap is worth a trip.