The provincial capital of the same-named province, Battambang
is Cambodia's second largest city and one of our all-time favourite spots in Cambodia. A relaxed and laid-back town, Battambang is primarily a farmer and trader town, a refreshing change from the far more touristy Siem Reap.
Set across the banks of the Sangker River, the bulk of the town's restaurants, hotels and attractions are to the west. It is a pleasant place to explore for a day or two on foot and forms a perfect base for trips into the surrounding area, where there's plenty to see and do.
Battambang is best known for its Angkor-period ruins at Ek Phnom and Phnom Banan, but there's also Phnom Sampeau -- the site of the local Killing Fields, and of course the noris -- in innovative Khmer "vehicle" used for travelling along the creaking railways.
But "big-ticket" attractions aside, what often swings it for Battambang is the laid back, sleepy feel to the place. It's an attractive town in a run-down kind of way with a few colonial shopfronts and pretty tree-lined streets. Spend an evening by the riverfront munching away of fried bugs and other critters and no doubt you'll be sold!
Battambang is Khmer for "disappearing stick", referring to a legend about a cowherd named Ta Dambong who found a magic stick and used it to usurp the then-king. The king's son ran off to the woods and became a monk. In the meantime, Ta Dambong had a dream that a holy man on a white horse would vanquish him, so he decided it would be a good idea to have all the holy men rounded up and put to death.
When the prince heard he was required to go into town, a hermit came up and gave him a white horse. When the prince got on the horse he found out it could fly. When he flew into town, Ta Dambong realised his dream was coming true so he threw his magic stick at the prince and did a runner. Neither he nor the magic stick were ever seen again.
The provincial capital is linked to Phnom Penh
by an excellent all weather road and to Siem Reap
by a slightly more patchy affair. You can also travel by boat from Battambang to Siem Reap -- a stunningly beautiful (if occasionally very slow) way to cross the broad Tonle Sap.
With Cambodia's number one tourist destination, Siem Reap
, but a couple of hours away, you'd think Battambang would do a decent trade in tourists, but it's surprising just how few bother to check it out. That's their loss and your gain as far as we're concerned -- as Battambang is absolutely worth at least an overnight's stay.
if you're thinking of seeing Battambang on a short jaunt from Siem Reap before returning to the same, consider doing one way by land, the other by boat -- just be prepared for a pretty rough and ready experience when it comes to the boat trip.
Once you're safely ensconced in Battambang, make sure you organise a motorbike trip into the surrounds -- allow at least half a day to see the highlights. There are no shortage of English-speaking motos will be on hand to guide your way.