16 Best Things to Do in Battambang
Battambang is the second largest city in Cambodia, but it gets overshadowed by Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. That’s a good thing though. It hasn’t been highly westernized and there aren’t many tourists compared to the other two cities. This makes Battambang the perfect place to experience a more authentic Cambodian city. There’s plenty of things to do in Battambang. Here are 16 ideas that’ll take you to the best that Battambang has to offer as an underrated, creative city.
- Ride the bamboo train
- Spend sunset at the bat cave
- Learn about the Khmer Rouge atrocities at the Well of Shadows
- Take in the Killing Caves
- Walk the suspension bridge to Kampong Pil Pagoda
- Climb up to Wat Banan
- Visit Wat Ek Phnom
- Visit the central market (Phsar Nath)
- Bike the countryside
- Take a cooking class
- Discover the local art scene
- Watch the phare circus
- Try the local food
- Tour the Battambang Provincial Museum
- Stop by Mrs. Bun Roeung's Ancient House
- Stroll along the Sangkae River
Ride the bamboo train
Battambang’s well-known bamboo train was created after the Khmer Rouge destroyed Cambodia’s rail system. To get on the train, you sit on a large wooden slat made of bamboo that’s been placed on top of four wheels. A mat and cushions are placed on top of the slat to make your ride a bit more comfortable.
Once you get on, the “conductor” will start the motor and you’ll quickly pick up speed, feeling each bump when the car runs over a joint. You’ll hurtle down the single-track railway, only slowing when you approach a car going in the opposite direction. Either your car or the other car will get taken apart to let the other one pass. Then, it’ll be put back together and both cars will be on their way again.
Spend sunset at the bat cave
The bat cave at Phnom Sampov (also spelled Phnom Sampeau) is the place to be at sunset. Since arriving in Battambang the day before, I hadn’t seen many tourists – until I arrived at the bat cave and realized this is where they all were.
Between 5 and 6 PM every day, millions of bats swarm out of the cave in search of food. They form a stream of black dots, dancing across the sky as it darkens. The road outside the cave is lined with tables, chairs, and food stalls. Show up early to make sure you get a seat, and grab some snacks and drinks from one of the vendors.
It takes up to a few hours for all of the bats to empty out, so stay as little or as long as you like.
Learn about the Khmer Rouge atrocities at the Well of Shadows
The Well of Shadows is a memorial to the 10,000 people who were killed in the Battambang region during the Khmer Rouge. It’s located next to Wat Samrong Knong, a temple that was turned into a prison. The memorial features images that show the horrors of what happened here, including cannibalism, torture, and forced marriage.
Take in the Killing Caves
The Killing Caves are located in Phnom Sampov, and it’s a somber reminder of what took place there not long ago. The Khmer Rouge killed thousands of people at the top of the cave, letting their bodies fall into the darkness below.
Inside the cave, you’ll find a reclining gold Buddha and the bones of those who were killed here. When I went, there was also an old man sitting inside. Our tour guide told us that he was a cook for the Khmer Rouge, which is why he was spared during the genocide. Now, he takes care of the memorial – a sad yet beautiful memorial of what he lived through.
Walk the suspension bridge to Kampong Pil Pagoda
It’s a fun, bouncy walk across the Plov Thmey suspension bridge that hangs over the Sangkae River. And if you’re questioning the sturdiness of the bridge, motorbikes cross it every day. If you cross while a motorbike is coming, just keep on going. You’ll have a shakier walk across, but the bridge is wide enough for two bikes to fit.
On the other side, you’ll find the peaceful Kampong Pil Pagoda.
Climb up to Wat Banan
Wat Banan is the most well-preserved Khmer temple in the Battambang province. But you’ll have to climb over 300 stairs to get there. Like Angkor Wat, Wat Banan has five towers that rise from it. Aside from the temple itself, you’ll be treated to gorgeous views of the Sangkae River and rural Battambang at the top.
Visit Wat Ek Phnom
See both new and old at Wat Ek Phnom. The temple was built under the reign of King Suryavarman I, making it older than Angkor Wat. It’s an ancient ruin in every sense. It feels like it could collapse at any moment. Huge blocks of stone lie everywhere and some pieces are propped up by wooden beams.
On the same grounds, you’ll also find a modern temple that’s used by locals and a 28-meter tall Buddha statue that you can’t miss.
Visit the central market (Phsar Nath)
Phsar Nath, Battambang’s central market, is a local market where you can find a bit of everything. There’s plenty of food, but you’ll also find jewelry, kitchenware, fabric, handbags, and more.
Bike the countryside
Exploring rural Cambodia is very accessible from Battambang. While you can join a bike tour, it’s easy to go unguided. Rent a bike in town and then figure out where you want to go. A lot of the sights listed here, like Wat Ek Phnom, the Well of Shadows, and Kampong Pil Pagoda, are all within biking distance. Don’t forget to bring sunscreen, water, and a hat!
Take a cooking class
Cooking classes are a popular activity in Battambang, and you’ve got a few to choose from: Nary Kitchen, Coconut Lyly, Lily’s Secret Garden, and Smokin’ Pot. Many cooking classes include a visit to the central market, where you’ll pick up fresh ingredients. If you’re short on luggage space, a cooking class is the perfect way to take home a piece of Cambodia.
Discover the local art scene
Surprisingly, Battambang has a small but growing art scene. One of the driving forces of this is Phare Ponleu Selpak, a non-profit art school that teaches over 1,000 students every year.
Wandering around Battambang, you’ll discover colorful street art. You can also art gallery hop and meet some of the local artists yourself at Jewel in the Lotus Gallery, Romcheik 5, Tep Kao Sol, and Human Gallery
Watch the phare circus
Phare Ponleu Selpak is also the organization behind the Phare Battambang Circus. The phare circus combines circus, music, dance, comedy, and storytelling for an evening you won’t forget. Shows start at 7 PM, but you can get there at 6 PM to enjoy some drinks and food at their café.
Try the local food
When I took a full-day tour in Battambang, I wasn’t expecting it to also be a bit of a food tour. There’s lots of Cambodian food that you can try and see made by locals here. With Battambang being “the rice bowl of Cambodia,” you’ll find rice wine, rice paper, and rice noodles. Other local foods include banana chips, dried bananas, and bamboo coconut sticky rice.
The best way to do this is to hire a local guide who can take you to the families that make these products and explain how they’re made. Alternatively, you can try this unguided by heading out of the city center and stopping at any food stalls you see.
Tour the Battambang Provincial Museum
The Battambang Provincial Museum is a small museum Angkorian sculptures and pottery. Admission is only $1 USD.
If you didn’t go to the Angkor National Museum in Siem Reap or enjoyed it and want to see more, then the Battambang Provincial Museum is worth your time. There’s also English explanations throughout the museum.
Stop by Mrs. Bun Roeung’s Ancient House
Step inside a traditional Khmer house. Mrs. Bun Roeung’s Ancient House was built before the Khmer Rouge and has been maintained for three generations. When you arrive, you’ll be greeted by the owners or a relative who will take you on a short tour of the house and its history.
It’s free to visit or you can leave a donation.
Stroll along the Sangkae River
Although Battambang is a bustling city, you can find some peace along the Sangkae River. It’s the perfect place to take a walk in the evening. Grab a drink at any of the food stalls that line the river as the sun starts to set.