Battambang is a quiet town, but there’s more than enough sightseeing and things to do to keep you busy, from visiting the local temples to seeing the circus.
Battambang countryside tours
If you’re only in Battambang for a day or two, make time for a full or half-day tour of the surrounding area. One of the nicest things about Battambang is the proximity to the countryside, which is known as “Cambodia’s rice bowl.” Tours cost around $15 for a half day and $25 for a full day for up to four people. There are several great tuk tuk guides in town (we’ve got their phone numbers and details here), who can take you through the rice paddies to see rice noodles being made, to a local home where they make rice wine, to a fish market, as well as many of the other attractions listed below.
A visit to this Angkorian-era hilltop temple is usually undertaken as part of a day trip to several other sights, including Phnom Sampeou. Constructed in the 11th century, Wat Banan sits on top of a small mountain, or phnom, surrounded by rice fields. The crumbling temple is reached by what feels like an endless set of stairs, which finishes at a peaceful plateau where stand the ruins of the five towers of Wat Banan. Known as a “mini Angkor Wat,” Wat Banan has clearly been looted, but there are still many features in excellent condition. Tickets cost $3 and include entrance to Phnom Sampeou, so save your ticket. [map]
Cambodia’s Phare Circus is based in Battambang, and a visit to the city is a fantastic opportunity to see the show on its home turf. Phare Ponleu Selpak is a local NGO that trains disadvantaged youth in the art of circus, which takes years to master. The circus features acrobatics, gymnastics, and tumbling, for an international-quality show. Regular tickets cost $15 for adults and $8 for kids ages 5-11, and VIP tickets (better, reserved seats) cost $35 and $18 for kids. Kids under 5 can watch the show for free.
Phnom Sampeou is a mountain with a temple, Wat Sampeou, at the top, from which you can enjoy the best view in all of Battambang of the city and the surrounding countryside. The mountain also features Khmer Rouge killing caves, where Khmer Rouge soldiers apparently murdered their victims by pushing them from a high ledge. Neither the caves nor the pagoda are particularly interesting, and visitors will encounter a fair number of donation requests, but it’s worth going for the view.
You’ll get dropped off at the bottom of the mountain and can walk up (it’s easier than taking the stairs).The walk can be done in flip-flops, but shoes make it easier. The entire walk takes about an hour and is not particularly difficult, although the easiest way to get back down is by a steep set of stairs. You can also pay a moto to take you up, but you will need to take one of the guys that wait at the bottom of the mountain. They have a monopoly and will not let you take the moto or tuk tuk that you arrived in. Young kids offer “tours” for a couple of bucks, which also give them the chance to practice their English (and they all seem to have slight but distinct Australian accents). Around 6 p.m. each night thousands upon thousands of bats stream out of the caves and make a pretty impressive sight. You’ll get the best view of the bat exodus from the road below the mountain. Entry to the mountain costs $3 and includes entrance to Phnom Banan. [map]
Perhaps Battambang’s most famous tourist attraction, the bamboo trains, or nori, are improvised trains made from bamboo platforms and small motors that run on the disused train lines. Traditionally used by locals to move cargo back when the roads were more difficult to traverse, the bamboo trains are now more often used by tourists. The best part about the bamboo train is when two trains face off on one track and the one with the less heavy load is forced to dismantle and let the other one pass. The price should be $10 for an entire nori which can carry four people, but they will try and charge more (and give kickbacks to your tuk tuk driver). Don’t pay more than $5 per person. While this is considered a “must-do” by some, personally we can take it or leave it.
Please note that there is now a new bamboo train next to Phnom Banan. The new one was constructed just for tourists, and was never actually used to transport cargo, but can be easily combined with a trip to Phnom Banan. However, the “original” bamboo train is still in operation, as of May, 2019 anyway.
Wat Ek Phnom
This partially collapsed 11th-century temple is about 45 minutes from central Battambang. The temple itself isn’t particularly impressive (although there’s a lintel showing the Sea of Churning Milk), but the drive there is a gorgeous trip through the Cambodian countryside. Just next to the pagoda is a very large, white Buddha statue. [map]
Battambang bicycle tours
There are several businesses in town offering bicycle tours. Battambang Bike is a locally owned company that offers a half-day city tour that’s part walking, part boat, and part cycling, allowing for a leisurely trip around town taking in Battambang’s beautiful colonial buildings. Another half-day outing, the “authentic folk livelihoods tour,” brings visitors to see such local industries as the making of bamboo sticky rice, rice wine, and spring-roll wrappers. Tour prices are around $20 per person and Battambang Bike is happy to custom-design tours as well.
Soksabike specializes in sustainable, educational bicycle tours. Their tours are either a half day for $27 or a full day for $40 and take visitors out into Battambang’s beautiful countryside. The tours focus on local industries, such as rice and weaving, and participants can try their hand at making rice paper. Soksabike will be offering multi-day tours in the future, so keep an eye out.
Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can do it on your own! Read our guide to exploring the Battambang countryside by bicycle.
Open daily, 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Street 1.5, Battambang [map]
T: +855 (0)17 860 003
Battambang art galleries
In the last decade Battambang has experienced something of an artist revival, in no small part thanks to Phare Ponleu Selpak, an non-profit organization there that provides hundreds of students with arts training and education. Galleries seem to come and go regularly, but here’s what’s there now.
Lotus Bar and Gallery features the work of female Cambodian artist Khchao Touch. The owner, Darren, is passionate about the local art scene and will happily give short tours of the featured work in the gallery upstairs. Romcheik 5 Art Space is an ambitious museum and gallery on the other side of the river and has three floors of contemporary Cambodian art as well as artist studios on site. Admission costs $5. Tep Kao Sol Gallery and Loeum Lorn Gallery are housed in the same building and show very different work by the same artist. Downstairs is the Tep Kao Sol Gallery that sells watercolors of Cambodian life, with inexpensive reproductions priced around $20. Upstairs is a fine art gallery of large format abstract photography. Human Gallery displays the international work of Spanish photographer Joseba Etxebarria. Sangker Art Space and Gallery is Sangker Gallery is a community arts space that shows a variety of work from local artists and students from the Phare Ponleu Selpak art school.
For full reviews, including opening and closing times and addresses, plus a few more cool art spaces in Battambang, see our full guide to Battambang’s art galleries.
Battambang cooking classes
Among the several cooking classes in town, the most famous is the wittily named Smokin’ Pot. The teacher, Vannak, is a Battambang native but grew up in a refugee camp on the Thai border and is as adept with Thai dishes as Cambodian ones. The course starts by meeting in town at the Smokin’ Pot restaurant, then a market tour and trip to the countryside to Vannak’s family home for the actual class. It culminates with a lunch consisting of the three dishes taught in the class. Classes cost $12 and each student gets to make three dishes of their choice. All students receive a cookbook from Vannak, featuring Khmer and Thai dishes. Make a reservation at least a day or two in advance, if possible.
Another popular cooking class is at Nary Kitchen, a restaurant in town. Classes there are four hours long and include a trip to the local market. You’ll make three dishes plus a dessert, which you’ll eat at the end. The class costs $10 and is suitable for vegetarians. Cooking classes are twice a day, in the morning from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and in the afternoon from 3:30 until 6:30 p.m. It’s best to book in advance. Read our full review here.
Open daily, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Street 111, near Psar Nath, Battambang
T: +855 (0)12 763 950
It’s true that studios offering Cambodian-style studio portraits can be found all over the country, but it’s one of the coolest things to do in Battambang. Traditionally, couples take studio portraits for engagement and wedding announcements. Nowadays, more and more middle-class teens get portraits to post on Facebook. Photo studios have a range of costumes to wear. Most are traditional Khmer garb, but Sangker Photo Studio in Battambang has a particularly impressive array that includes Japanese kimonos and flouncy dresses worthy of a Southern belle. Read our blog post with tips on how to take the best Cambodia studio portraits possible.
Sangker Photo Studio
Open daily, 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.
74-76 Street 2, South of Psar Nath, Battambang
T: +855 (0)53 952 511
Prasat Phnom Banan Winery
Wine aficionados will be politely horrified by the goings-on at Battambang’s Prasat Phnom Banan Winery. The family that owns the place decided to start a winery with no previous experience with viticulture, using imported vines from the US, Australia, and France. They don’t do things strictly by the book and manage to get three harvests a year from their vineyard (a typical winery gets just one). Their red wine is a mix of shiraz, cabernet, brandy, and grape juice. It’s true that there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about the winery, other than the fact it’s the only one in Cambodia, and it’s also true that the wine stinks. But the place is a novelty, the owners are incredibly friendly, and wine tastings are only $2. It’s not worth making a special trip to the place, but it’s an easy stop on many day-long itineraries.
Prasat Phnom Banan Winery
Open daily, 8 a.m. until 6 p.m.
Bat Sala Village, outside of Battambang [map]
T: +855 (0)12 665 238
Things to do when it’s raining
Visiting during rainy season? Don’t worry, there are still things to keep you busy in Battambang. We’ve got a guide of what to do in rainy season including pub quizzes, movie nights, board games, yoga classes, massages, and more.
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