RICE BOWL OF CAMBODIA
Battambang town is at the heart of Cambodia's
'rice bowl', and even though it is the country's
second biggest town, it still has a very local,
untouristed, provincial atmosphere. Much of the
architecture is French colonial and traditional
Cambodian. Few buildings are over three stories, and
the main streets are shared by cars and horse carts
alike. Unlike more touristed towns, the local
economy is truly local - based firmly in rice, wood,
sapphires and food crops - and is reflected in the
character of the town. Similarly, as you leave
Battambang by road, the scene quickly becomes one of
small villages, rice paddies, and farmland, offering
an excellent opportunity for the visitor to see a
bit of 'unspoiled' rural Cambodia. The nearby
countryside also harbors old pagodas, Angkorian era
ruins, caves, waterfalls, and even Khmer Rouge
period killing fields. Battambang means
‘disappearing stick’, and is named after a powerful
stick used by a legendary Khmer king to achieve and
maintain power in the Battambang area.
Battambang City is absolutely full of wonderful
colonial-era architecture and historic old pagodas,
and the surrounding countryside harbors not only
Angkorian-era temple ruins and pagodas but also
offers some of the most picturesque rice paddy and
village scenery in the country. The new edition of
Ray Zepp’s essential guide to Battambang and the
surrounding area. Around Battambang, is available at
tourist hotels and restaurants throughout Battambang
The bamboo train is a unique and creative form of
ad-hoc local transportation.
It consists of a small (perhaps 2.5m x
4m), motorcycle engine-powered bamboo cart
that rides the railroad rails picking up and
dropping off passengers, cargo, animals,
motorcycles along the way. When it meets on
on-coming train or bamboo train, it can be
disassembled and taken off the rails in a minute or
two, allowing the other to pass. When touring the
countryside ask your driver to take you to a rail
crossing where you can meet a bamboo train to take a
The rural countryside outside of Battambang is
National Geographic picturesque. Within just a few
kilometers of town the countryside turns into small
villages filled with stilted houses and rice paddies
that stretch to the horizon. You’ll see plenty of
countryside on the way to any of the local sites.
Check out some of the local products in the making -
rice paper, noodles and the fishpaste market. It’s
all very traditional if not a bit unhygienic and
smelly, but a interesting experience and adventure
nonetheless. The roads are often rough and during
the dry season. always exceptionally dusty. Bring a
good hat and a krama to cover your nose and mouth.
Ek Phnom is an 11th century Angkorian-era
ruin built as a Hindu temple under Suryavarman I.
The temple consists of prasats on a platform with
some carvings in pretty good condition. Wat Ek
Phnom, a modern pagoda, sits next to the ruin. The
river road drive to Ek Phnom from Battambang passes
through small villages and rice paddies and is an
absolutely beautiful countryside drive.
Phnom Banan is a mountain top, 11th century
Angkorian-era ruin consisting of five prasats.
Peaceful location with a nice view of the area. Also
L’Ang But Meas cave. Very old (150 years+) active
pagoda at the base of the mountain.
Pagodas Both Battambang town and the surrounding
countryside are replete with pagodas, some of them
very old and highly respected. See Ray Zepp's book
Around Battambang for complete information about
visiting the local pagodas.
Phnom Sampeou Mountain, steeped in legend,
and topped by Wat Sampeou and a group of caves used
as ‘killing caves’ by the Khmer Rouge, containing
the skeletal remains of their victims. The wat is
unexceptional but the view is spectacular. Ask about
the legend of Neang Rumsay Sok.
The Battambang Provincial Museum on the
riverfront road in the center of town houses a large
collection of Angkorian and pre-Angkorian artifacts
- statues, carvings, bits of ancient temples,
pottery, etc. If you find the Museum open, it is
well worth a visit. Opening hours seem rather
irregular, more likely to be open in the morning
than the afternoon. If it is closed but you see a
guard present, stop and tell him your are interested
in the Museum and if they don’t open it for you
then, they will have it open and ready for you the
Shopping in Battambang
Phsar Nath in the center of town is the main phsar
(traditional market) and is geared to the locals,
sporting the usual variety of fruits, vegetables,
meat, clothes, sundries, food stalls, etc. Gem
dealers, a couple of banks, photo shops and
moneychangers line the streets that ring the phsar.
Phsar Leu, just south of town, seems to be the place
to buy the local specialties: oranges and pomelos
from Pursat province. The oranges are said to be the
best oranges in the country.
Local goods Marble sculpture from Pursat province,
woodcarvings from Battambang and sapphires from
Pailin dominate the souvenir market in Battambang.
Many of the hotels as well as the small
souvenir/art/curios shops on Road #1 on the river in
the center of town offer a selection of wood and
marble products. The art shops have a better
selection than the hotels and a couple have very
interesting collections of curios, old trinkets,
coins, antiques and oddities - well worth a look.
Cambodian sapphires and rubies mined in Pailin near
the Thai border are brought to Battambang to be
graded, cut and polished. There are some good deals
on stones in Battambang but be very careful when
buying. Fake and low quality jewel scams are common
so you need to know gemology or know your gem dealer
very well. Gem and gold dealers are located in the
center of Psah Nath, in little shops surrounding the
psah, and in a few shops on Road #1.