What to do and eat in Battambang, Cambodia in just a day.
Despite being the 2nd most populous city in Cambodia, Battambang remains largely untouched by tourism. Foreigners usually skip Battambang due to its inaccessibility; there are no international airports in this underrated city and the only way to get here is via boat or car from its sister cities.
Having visited Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Battambang, it is Battambang that stood out to us with its old-worm charm. It’s easily our favourite Cambodian city – in fact, neither Phnom Penh nor Siem Reap can come close. We were blown away by how genuine the Khmer people of Battambang were and their exceptionally kind gestures have touched our hearts, forever. Battambang gave us an experience so unique and unspoiled – a rarity in today’s context.
A tuktuk driver who said, “you don’t have to pay me” upon arriving our destination and the friendly hotel staff who insisted on waiting outside in the dark with us – were just a few noteworthy encounters. Admittedly, Battambang’s biggest draw is its untainted environment. There’s something alluring about the town’s simple way of life, although we must acknowledge that it is only a matter of time before Battambang becomes marred with developments.
Battambang was one of our most memorable trips and we hope it would be the same for you.
1. Kinyei Cafe – Best Coffee in Battambang
Kinyei Cafe is a must-visit for all coffee lovers. The unassuming two-storey shop house – is the humble abode that has successfully groomed two of Cambodia’s National Barista Champions. The legacy continues and the talented team is ever growing.
Coffee prices range from US$1.50 for an Americano to US$2.50 for a latte. Prices are a tad pricey by Cambodian standards, but satisfaction is guaranteed. The rustic-looking café too serves Western breakfast dishes and offer guests free wifi.
Kinyei isn’t just an ordinary café. The self-sustainable social enterprise – founded by an Australian trio – is a creative project space that has managed to bridge the gap between locals and foreigners and the end result is a wonderful explosion of collaboration opportunities.
Address: 1 1/2 Street | Near Phsar Nath (Nath Market), Battambang, Cambodia
2. Bamboo Train – An Alternative ‘Rollercoaster’
Battambang’s Bamboo Train will put a smile on the faces of adrenaline junkies. Also known as norries amongst the Khmer people, this traditional transportation method was once a popular option to deliver tonnes of rice and even livestock.
The makeshift train is essentially a bamboo flatbed fuelled by a small motor. The bumpy ride could accelerate up to 50km/hour and… Honestly, it’s technically pretty dangerous. But I actually felt very safe.
Get this straight: You are travelling on a bamboo flatbed – with no safety belts and handrails to hold – on a one-way train track. You will too face incoming norries. Holy shit, it was nevertheless fun though!
There is an unspoken rule that the norry with fewer passengers will have to give way to prevent collision; which means you would have to get off the norry, so the driver can dismantle it and reassemble the train with his bare hands. A return trip costs US$5 (with a pitstop at O’Sralau Village).
During the journey, you will traverse through massive grasslands and encounter beautiful wildlife. It was an especially refreshing sight for urban dwellers.
Like many other Southeast Asian attractions, a family has set up shops at O’Sralau Village selling drinks, food, clothing and many souvenirs. We have read about other travellers’ nasty experiences about the aggressive touters, but actually didn’t encounter any harassment!
There have been talks about demolishing the Bamboo Train to make way for future developments, but nothing has been set in stone yet. While we aren’t sure if that is actually happening, we are crossing our fingers that the Bamboo Train will be protected!
Address: Battambang 02360, Cambodia
3. The Sanctuary Villa – The Most Value-for-money Villa
Our stay at The Sanctuary Villa Battambang was incredible. The 4-star retreat is surrounded by lush greenery and features an inviting outdoor salt-water pool. All guests are entitled to free wifi and complimentary use of their bicycles too! If you are lazy to head out, dine at their on-site restaurant or opt for room service. But for goodness sake, PLEASE head out and explore!
There are only 10 villas located on this compound, hence maximum privacy is guaranteed. There aren’t many 4-star hotels in Battambang; in fact, there are only 9 others. But The Sanctuary Villa boasts the most affordable rates and the biggest rooms. Rates start from only US$45/night.
Tip #1: Free hotel transfer can be arranged from the Battambang Bus or Train Terminal
Tip #2: Rent their bicycles for free if you want to explore nearby places
Address: No. 413, Chrey Village, Sla Ket District, Cambodia
4. Butterfly Tour – Cycle Off the Beaten Track
If you are keen to explore Battambang’s countryside, interact with local Khmer villagers and learn about their livelihoods, then we would strongly recommend Butterfly Tours’ bicycle tour to you. The 4-hour cycling tour covers approximately 30 kilometres; make sure you are a skilful cyclist because you will be cycling on unpaved roads under the scorching sun.
We were very fortunate to have Sopheap (the founder of Butterfly Tours) as our tour guide for the day. We were granted a rare glimpse of Battambang’s rural community and their traditional livelihoods; we entered the villagers’ homes, witnessed the production of commodities and were even given samples to try! All these would not have been possible without Butterfly Tours.
What sets Butterfly Tours apart from most companies is that it is focused on empowerment and education. The local guides are eager to share their knowledge on Khmer culture with foreigners and at the same time, they get to increase their English communication skills and confidence levels. We were the only participants for that day and had a very memorable private tour.
The tour company is fully run by Cambodian youths and the amount paid (US$18 per pax) will directly benefit the local Khmer communities. Each tour group size is kept small – capped at 8 pax – to ensure maximum engagement and road safety. Nevertheless, the tour will commence even if you happen to be the only participant (which was what happened in our case).
Tip #1: Butterfly Tours offer free pick-up and drop-off service
Tip #2: Do bring a backpack to store your sunnies, bottled water and sun screen
Tip #3: Do wear comfy sports shoes and suitable attire for cycling
Address: Street 309, Krong Battambang, Cambodia
5. The Lonely Tree Café – Dinner for a Good Cause
The Lonely Tree Café’s bricked walls and tall ceilings might mislead you into thinking that it is an upscale dining establishment – but in reality, it isn’t.
The Lonely Tree Café is a social enterprise that employs the underprivileged and disabled. The first level features handicrafts by physically disabled Cambodians, while the second level is the cozy dining hall where diners can indulge in a plethora of Asian, Spanish and Western dishes at wallet-friendly prices ranging from US$2.50 and onwards for main course.
Prices range from US$2.50 for a Stir-fried Morning Glory with Steamed Rice, US$3.50 for Fried Noodles with beef, chicken or pork to US$5.50 for a Beef Cheeseburger served with French Fries.
Address: No. 56, Street 2.5, battambang, Cambodia
The Fastest Way To Get To Battambang:
You can choose to arrive Battambang from either Phnom Penh or Siem Reap and vice versa. Battambang is located 290 kilometres from Phnom Penh and and 77 kilometres from Siem Reap. If time is money, we urge to fly into Siem Reap and then board an express bus to Battambang.
The journey from Siem Reap to Battambang is approximately 3+ hours, but it could be longer (depending on traffic conditions). Here are a few recommended options that you can consider:
1. Mekong Express
– One-way ticket costs US$12 per pax
– Journey: ~3 hours
– Frequency: 2x a day
– You can purchase it online
2. Capitol Tours Cambodia
– One-way ticket costs US$5 per pax
– Journey ~3.5 hours
– Frequency: 5x a day
– You cannot purchase it online
3. Hiring a private taxi
– One-way trip cost around US$35 – US$40
– Journey ~2.5 hours
– Ideal if travelling in a group of four
What we did (and we wouldn’t recommend this to anyone): We took a local bus from Phnom Penh and it took us about 7-8 hours. It was an adventure but a nerve-wrecking experience. Most of the locals were convinced that two teenage Asian girls shouldn’t be heading to Battambang and kept trying to point us to Siem Reap instead! We eventually arrived Battambang & managed to find our way with the help of a kindest tuktuk driver who wanted to offer us a free ride.
Getting around Battambang:
Cycling: The Sanctuary Villa grants you complimentary use of their bicycles – so make use of it!
Tuktuk: It costs approximately US$10 to US$15 to hire a tuktuk driver for half a day and approximately US$20 to hire a tuktuk driver for the entire day.
You can download our Battambang itinerary in word document or pdf file.
Feel free to tweak it according to your own preferences and do email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you spot any outdated information.