battambang provincial hall

Discover Battambang: Top Things to Do in Cambodia’s UNESCO Culinary Gem

Battambang, a hidden gem nestled in Cambodia, seamlessly blends rich cultural heritage with a burgeoning culinary scene. Recognized by UNESCO for its exceptional culinary traditions, this sleepy town has emerged as a must-visit destination for travelers seeking authentic experiences. In this guide, we’ll explore the top attractions, activities, and flavors that make Battambang a standout spot on Cambodia’s map.

A Glimpse into Battambang’s Cultural Heritage

Phare Ponleu Selpak (The Brightness of the Arts)

One of the most captivating cultural experiences in Battambang is a visit to Phare Ponleu Selpak, an art school and circus that transforms the lives of Cambodian youth through the arts. Established in the 1990s, this institution offers incredible performances while providing education and support to its students. The circus shows, blending traditional and contemporary Cambodian elements, are a must-see.

This November 22-27, 2024, the Tini Tinou International Circus Festival returns to Battambang, marking its biggest edition yet. Organized by Phare Ponleu Selpak and Phare, The Cambodian Circus, the festival will host 13 circus troupes from 10 countries. Expect nightly shows, workshops, artist talks, pop-up performances, and a grand finale concert. Highlights include the “End of Love (Cabaret)” premiere, a circus parade through Battambang, and a tightrope walk over the Sangker River. The festival also celebrates Phare Ponleu Selpak’s 30th anniversary with a massive community party.

Wat Banan Temple

Wat Banan, an ancient temple perched on a hilltop, offers breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside. Often compared to a smaller Angkor Wat, Wat Banan features intricate carvings and serene surroundings. The climb to the top is steep, but the panoramic views and sense of history make it well worth the effort.

Wat Ek Phnom

Wat Ek Phnom is another remarkable temple located just a short drive from Battambang. This 11th-century Angkorian ruin is surrounded by a serene moat and is renowned for its massive Buddha statue. The temple provides a peaceful atmosphere, perfect for exploring the ancient Khmer architecture.

For a countryside Cambodian adventure, take a ride to Pheas Reservoir. You can choose a sporty bike ride or a more relaxed scooter journey. This true gem shines during the green season or just after it.

Kampong Pil Pagoda

Located on the outskirts of Battambang, Kampong Pil Pagoda is a beautiful and serene site. The pagoda is surrounded by lush greenery and features stunning architecture, including intricately carved statues and detailed murals. It’s a wonderful place to experience the local spiritual culture.

The Rise of Battambang’s Culinary Scene

Battambang’s culinary landscape has gained international acclaim, earning a spot on UNESCO’s culinary map. This recognition highlights the town’s commitment to preserving traditional recipes and promoting local ingredients. You won’t see any premium restaurants or fancy bistros here, but the award recognizes the vibrant street food scene and traditional dishes such as crispy deep-fried bananas and turmeric-infused minced-pork stuffed pancakes.

The Lively Psar Nat Market

A visit to Battambang isn’t complete without exploring Psar Nat Market. This bustling market is a feast for the senses, offering a wide array of fresh produce, street food, and handmade goods. Try local delicacies like prahok (fermented fish paste) and nom banh chok (Cambodian rice noodle soup). The market is not just a place to eat but a cultural experience, showcasing the heart and soul of Battambang’s culinary tradition.

Jaan Bai Restaurant

For a more refined food experience, head to Jaan Bai, a social enterprise restaurant that supports Cambodian youth through vocational training. The menu features a mix of Cambodian classics and innovative dishes, all made with locally sourced ingredients. Don’t miss their signature dishes like grilled river fish and spicy tamarind pork.

Must-See Attractions in Battambang

Discover the must-see attractions in Battambang, a city rich in culture and history. Explore the unique landmarks and hidden gems that make this Cambodian destination unforgettable.

Bamboo Train (Norry)

The Bamboo Train, known locally as the Norry, is one of Battambang’s most unique attractions. This makeshift railway system, originally used to transport goods, has become a popular tourist activity. Riding the Bamboo Train offers a fun and scenic way to explore the countryside and experience local life.

Battambang Bat Caves

At sunset, head to the Battambang Bat Caves to witness a spectacular natural phenomenon. Thousands of bats stream out of the caves in a mesmerizing display, creating a unique and unforgettable experience. The caves are located near Phnom Sampeau, another site of historical and cultural significance.

Governor’s House

The Governor’s House, an elegant colonial building, provides a glimpse into Battambang’s past. This beautifully preserved mansion now serves as a museum, offering insights into the town’s history and architecture. The house is surrounded by lush gardens, making it a peaceful retreat in the heart of the city.

Sangker River Cruise

A cruise along the Sangker River offers a unique perspective of Battambang. The river meanders through picturesque landscapes, traditional villages, and lush rice paddies. This relaxing boat ride provides ample opportunities to observe local life and capture stunning photos of the Cambodian countryside.

Exploring Battambang’s Art Scene

Battambang has a vibrant art scene, with numerous galleries and studios showcasing the work of local artists.

Romcheik 5 Art Space

Romcheik 5 Art Space is a contemporary art gallery founded by a French curator, currently showcasing works by three main artists: HOUR Seyha, Nget Chanpenh, and Mil Chankrim. The gallery features a rotating collection of paintings, sculptures, and installations that reflect Cambodia’s modern artistic landscape. Visiting this space provides a deeper understanding of the country’s creative spirit.

Another great venue is Tep Kao Sol Loeum Lorn Gallery, which showcases watercolor paintings on the ground floor and more modern art on the first floor, featuring Loeum Lorn’s work with photography, painting, and ice!

In 2015, humanitarian photographer Joseba Etxebarria settled in Cambodia, recognizing his responsibility to the “voiceless.” In June 2017, he founded Human Gallery in Battambang, showcasing his work and the human stories behind it. The gallery features many photographs from his world tour for Human Rights (2010-2022). Twenty percent of sales from the gallery and website funds education for children in the “Wings for the Future” project.

Battambang Provincial Museum

For history and art enthusiasts, the Battambang Provincial Museum is a treasure trove of artifacts and exhibits. The museum showcases relics from the Angkorian era, traditional Khmer art, and informative displays about the region’s history. It’s an educational stop that adds depth to your understanding of Battambang’s heritage.

Where to Stay in Battambang

Battambang doesn’t offer a wide variety of accommodation options for premium travelers, so it’s better to check availability before heading there. However, there are plenty of options to suit budget and backpacker travelers.

For a premium experience, having stayed in both, we recommend:

Maison Wat Kor in Battambang, a serene retreat nestled in a peaceful village near the historical old center. This boutique hotel, away from the city center, combines traditional Khmer architecture with modern comforts in spacious, well-appointed rooms. Enjoy warm, personalized service and eco-friendly practices that support the local community.

La Villa, set in a beautifully restored French colonial building in the heart of Battambang, offers a perfect blend of historic charm and modern comfort. Enjoy the lush garden, outdoor pool, and terrace. Just steps from the city’s colonial landmarks, La Villa provides an elegant escape with easy access to Battambang’s vibrant center.

Getting to Battambang from Siem Reap

Traveling from Siem Reap to Battambang is relatively straightforward. You have several options, including buses, boats, and private taxis. The bus journey takes approximately 3–4 hours and is a cost-effective choice, with various companies offering daily services.

For a more scenic and adventurous option, consider taking a boat along the Tonle Sap River and Sangker River, which takes 8 hours at least but offers stunning views of the Cambodian countryside. If you do, bring earplugs to minimize the noise from the boat’s engine. Alternatively, you can hire a private taxi for a more comfortable and direct trip, which takes around 3 hours.

Embrace the Charm of Battambang

Battambang, with its rich cultural tapestry and blossoming culinary scene, offers a truly unique experience for travelers. The city’s stunning French colonial architecture, vibrant markets, and delightful local cuisine create a captivating blend of old and new. Whether you’re an art enthusiast, a food lover, or a history buff, Battambang promises an unforgettable journey through the heart of Cambodia.

Part of the city’s charm lies in its variety of cafes along the river. You can find everything from small, unauthorized carts to cozy, established spots. One standout is Stations, making it a lovely place to relax.

So, pack your bags and get ready to uncover the hidden treasures of Battambang – a destination that’s sure to captivate and inspire.

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