Cambodia’s second largest city is a lot smaller than the capital city of Phnom Penh, but that’s not a bad thing. In fact, one of the attractions of Battambang is that it’s not a sprawling metropolis and so provides travellers with a very different Cambodian experience. Battambang feels more like a chilled-out town with an air of colonial charm and this makes it a much more relaxed place to visit.
Here are five reasons why Battambang is a perfect addition to your Cambodian itinerary:
1. The Laidback Atmosphere
Arriving in Battambang, you will immediately notice how relaxed and tranquil the city is. While some would call it “sleepy”, many expats refer to Battambang as “dreamlike” due to the combination of the semi-faded colonial aesthetic, provided by the many French-era buildings and the relative lack of traffic. Walking around the centre of Battambang gives you a chance to explore the historic architecture and then stop off for a drink at one of the nearby expat or local bars to cool off. Sit back, relax and enjoy the views.
2. The Excellent Photo Opportunities
Wherever you go in Battambang, you will find excellent opportunities to take photos or selfies if you prefer. In fact, the most iconic opportunities may well be as you arrive in the city. If you have taken a private taxi from nearby Siem Reap, then make sure to ask the driver to stop off at the iconic Ta Dumbong statue located in the middle of a prominent roundabout. The tall black statue is impossible to miss and makes for a uniquely Battambang snapshot to share with friends and family. Ask any local in the area and they will tell you the legendary tale of Ta Dumbong, a cow herder who usurped a king using a magic stick. But when he tried to kill a holy man, the stick vanished. The story is so important that the city was named after Ta Dumbong (which literally means “disappearing stick”).
3. Battambang’s world-renowned circus
There are circuses and then there is Phare Ponleu Selpak, which is a famous circus run by an organisation that trains underprivileged young people in all sorts of amazing circus disciplines. If ever there was a deserving cause, then this is one of them and you will be taken aback when you see how good they are. Whether they are juggling, doing head flips, balancing on top of each other’s heads or walking on ginormous stilts, these talented performers tend to astound their audiences. Every Monday and Thursday at 5 p.m., they give a performance for the general public, with all of the proceeds earned being used to support the young performers’ education and training.
4. A Million Bats Flying Out of a Cave
Have you ever seen over a million bats flying out of a cave before? Probably not. No wonder then that Battambang’s Bat Caves have become one of the city’s most popular attractions for tourists and for expats.
The caves are located on a hill known as Phnom Sampeu, where visitors gently climb up towards a monastery. Then they look up at the rock face, where there is a cave with a big surprise for the uninitiated. Make sure you get there before 5 p.m. because by 5:30 p.m. every evening, an astonishing 1 million bats begin to fly out of the cave and into the sky, non-stop, for over 40 minutes. It is an unbelievable sight to see…provided you don’t have a fear of bats.
5. A Spectacular Temple that isn’t Angkor Wat
Cambodia is a land filled with the most impressive range of temples, with every province having its own special offering. Battambang has a temple so well-known that it is considered a must-see for all visitors to the province. Wat Banan is even affectionately referred to as the “miniature Angkor Wat” on account of its five towers, which soar above the temple. Way Banan is perched on top of a hill around 22 kilometres outside of the city, so it makes for a perfect day trip.
Be prepared to climb up 300 steps that will lead you to the Buddhist shrine and five towers at the very top…
After you have caught your breath, explored and taken your photos and snapshots, there is another trail which takes you back down the hillside and past a cave with very high ceilings, not to mention another lot of bats.
With adventures like these, Battambang is truly a place worthy of a visit.