Arriving in Battambang Cambodia
There is an underlying sense of relaxation when you arrive in Battambang. On our first evening we were looking for a restaurant downtown and were about to cross the street. From far away a motorbike slowly approached; no hurry. No cars in sight. A stray dog was looking at us; waiting for our next move. We heard the sound of kids playing. Laughter from a nearby house.
Relaxing in Battambang
Battambang is ideal for a bit of relaxation. We somewhat found it difficult to unwind after all the excitement during the first part of our trip: the amazing temples of Angkor, the bustling city of Phnom Penh and the terrifying Killing Fields.
OK, there might be a chance that you find Battambang boring. But really, take your time to discover the city and most of all its backlands! In the backlands of Battambang we really discovered the rural Cambodian life.
Battambang by bike
Regular visitors of my blog will recognize this piece of advice: rent a bicycle! It’s definitely the easiest way to get in touch with local people and overall just the best way to discover a place. There are several bike rental shops around town and probably your hotel can offer you some bikes as well. Prices are ok: everywhere between 1 and 4 USD for a regular bike (check our 1 USD bike on the picture below!)
Rental shops will probably have some bike tours, but we just went on our own tour with a simple guiding principle: follow the river! If you are o.k. with 1-2 hours of biking fun, just follow the Sangkea river up North and you will meet lots of local kids, great food stalls, small villages and a lot of peace and quiet. We went all the way up North to the Ek Phnom temple.
During our bike tour we talked to an (outdoor) hairdresser who not only showed us his work but also his house and family! We visited a crocodile farm (not the touristy one charging you a hefty 10 USD entrance fee but one we ran into by accident), an abandoned Pepsi factory (!), great food stalls and lots of kids jumping into the river to cool down and have fun. Promise, you will have a fab time!
Battambang by TukTuk
So that’s Day One. For the second day I would like you to ask a TukTuk driver to show you around for a day. Don’t forget to negotiate about the price by the way.
The backlands of Battambang are really impressive: the bamboo train, Killing Caves (yes, as gruesome as its name), old French mansions, and beautiful temples hidden in the forest.
Of course a visit to Battambang is not a real visit to Battambang when you have ‘done’ the famous Bamboo train! Read all about it in a special post. After the Bamboo train we drove for 30-45 minutes all the way to Sampeu hill. This was some impressive visit I can tell you.
You probably read on my blog about the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng prison. Sampue hill hides the worst and most gruesome example of human atrocity: the killing caves. During the Pol Pot regime people were killed here in the most appalling way: standing on the edge of the cave, people were hit by a wooden club and fell down.
Hundreds, thousands of bodies ended up on the bottom of the cave. You can visit the cave and yes, we also went down the stairs….to return quite quickly again. Although local kids who accompanied us kept on laughing and playing, I was really shocked by this place.
You don’t have to visit the killing caves if you don’t want to. You can also just enjoy Sampeu hill with a colorful monastery on top, superb views, lots of monkeys running around, Buddha caves and a real bat cave where you can witness thousands of bats flying out at sunset. The hill is definitely worth the trip from Battambang.
Around the corner of our hotel we discovered an area where people live in houses build from nothing more than corrugated sheets. Don’t worry, feel free to walk around and have a chat. You will be surprised by the warm welcome you will get… that’s Battambang. That’s part of the real Cambodian life.
We had a wonderful hotel in Battambang with a friendly staff: DeLux Villa.