Cambodia

Why not Battambang? (and things to do)

Ros Serey Sothea mural at Baan Jai [Battambang, 2015]
Ros Serey Sothea mural at Baan Jai [Battambang, 2015]
“Battambang is famous for being the birthplace of Cambodia’s most famous artists and musicians, but during the Khmer Rouge era the art scene was virtually destroyed when most artists either fled or were killed.” – Canby guide, Nov 2015

It’s been six months since we moved to Cambodia, and last month I felt like I finally got to stretch out a bit and see what it has to offer.

Street 2.5 [Battambang, 2015]
Street 2.5 [Battambang, 2015]
Deciding on Battambang versus Sihanoukville (beach town) and Phnom Penh (the capitol) was a mental + internet research slog-fest. In the end though, I decided a beach town had too much potential during the holidays to be a major disappointment (seedy, crowded, expensive) and the capitol (lots of folks either love it or hate it) is someplace I have to go to later this year anyway due to getting my passport renewed. So, Battambang it was.

Street 3 [Battambang, 2015]
Look at this beauty on Street 3…
Batt is a short, 3 hour bus drive from Siem Reap and is known for many things, but mainly for its French colonial architecture, art community and bamboo train. It reminded me of Chiang Rai Thailand in some ways because it’s quieter than Siem Reap, walkable, family-friendly and artsy.

In fact, whoever said SR is walkable needs to be shot in the foot. SR is not walkable unless you enjoy dodging trash, parked vehicles, sucking on dust and construction. But I suppose this all depends on your definition of walkable. Let’s just say Batt is pleasantly walkable. We only went for 3 days, but I wanted to move there.

First up, Battambang has a plenty of good restaurant options. It was fun to eat out except that one time I chose a complete dud, Madison’s, a tired burger joint that is living off of its location and probably a better past reputation. I hate that feeling, when you choose a bad restaurant. Thank god we didn’t get sick.

Everything else in Batt was great though. I’d recommend: Khmer Delight, super nice staff, tasty food + inviting. Jaan Bai was super popular and for good reason, and The Lonely Tree Café, located upstairs from a gift shop was good and relaxing as well.

Chicken amok served in a coconut from Khmer Delight
Chicken amok served in a coconut from Khmer Delight

And the things to do! We just hit a few things.

The bamboo train, of course, had to be tried. It’s weird. The whole process feels like an exercise in trust (not unlike driving in SE Asia!), but I suppose that’s part of the adventure. So, I won’t upload the video recording. I will say though, it feels illegal sitting on a rickety bamboo platform speeding down old train tracks at 31 mph without a helmet or a net or something to catch us in case we derail.

Looks like someone is going to be taken for a ride...
Looks like someone is going to be taken for a ride…

I wish I did know that at the turn around point, you will be left to wander makeshift shacks where “friendly” vendors try to lure you in to buy scarves, coconuts and clothing. You know the hissing cartoon snake that tries to be your bestie, that’s what the sellers are like. I’ve never encountered this level of slickness anywhere else in Cambo so far.

It’s okay though, you’ll survive the 10 minute layover, but it takes away from the “I’m in a developing country’s rollercoaster ride” experience. Or does it? Hmmm. (Costs $5 not including tip. I know, right? You have to tip the “driver”.)

 

"Changing tracks" or moving the train in front of us by tossing the wheels to the side and lifting the raft.
“Changing tracks” or moving the train in front of us by tossing the wheels to the side and lifting the raft. I was profoundly too sober for this event.

Battambang Bike is a great experience I’d recommend. It took some energy finding their shop since they moved from their old location further down Street 2.5 to #185. But I’m glad we did because Soksabike, the other biking company, was packed with tourists when I saw them on the road. We did a half-day countryside tour with just one other couple and it was more intimate and personal. Sun is also a lovely guide. (Sun and his twin brother Toe run Battambang Bike.)

We were out of town quickly and riding through neighborhoods and learned about making rice whiskey, bamboo sticky rice, fish paste, rice paper and visited a school and a crocodile farm. It was an excellent change of pace from just eating out and wandering around temples or sitting in a tuk tuk. Now, I’m interested in taking more bike tours, such a great way to see a new place.

Lastly, we explored the growing art scene in Battambang and it was refreshing to see something different than the stuff you see in touristic areas. Unfortunately, Sangker Art Space was closed, but we went to ROMCHEIK 5 Art Space which showcases and supports four young Khmer artists. Lotus Bar is another place that displays local art and Jewel in the Lotus, across the street, was a funky shop where we bought a signed print from an illustrator.

I wish the world would experience a new art renaissance. It was sooo nice to be around original art again. Battambang seems more interested in putting up art in their spaces and what a difference. Siem Reap is all about Angkor Wat, which is wonderful, of course, but I just wonder, why do we have to see generic art or no art when there are plenty of artists and photographers who can make your coffee shop or restaurant more interesting and dynamic? They get exposure and your space benefits, too.

Sigh.

I’ll be back, Battambang. I’ll be back.

 

Bicycle fruit seller on Street 1.5
Bicycle fruit on Street 1.5
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47 thoughts on “Why not Battambang? (and things to do)

  1. Okay, I’ll bite (ha) — what is the crocodile farm for? Do people eat them? Make them into shoes? Both?

    I’ve eaten alligator before, but not crocodile. (FYI, alligator does not taste like chicken.)

    Sounds like a great trip. Especially the art and the bike ride. 🙂 Love the Baan Jai mural.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes. The owner of one croc farm explained that folks from China want them for “medicinal uses”, the Vietnamese for meat and the Thais for handbags, shoes, etc. It was sooo scary to be on this tiny bridge above them – tons of them.

      It was a nice getaway…thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It can be. I think we always want a new place to be fun and interesting. We certainly wouldn’t want a dud! Cheers.

      Like

  2. Love it! I like to explore interesting places and tried the local food (within reason).

    I have booked and researched for my Istanbul trip in January. It will be cold there but the next break will be in the summer which can be too hot to walk around. I hope to post you some pix and a write up about my trip to Athens soon (I have a heavy work load).

    Happy New Year, Lani. Hope it brings you abundance and success.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds like you are doing some serious exploring of your own. Curious how was Athens and now you have Istanbul! Would love to see Istanbul – one day.

      I’ll look forward to the update w/ pics 😉

      Happy New Year to you, too. Wishing you all the best and much more, xxoo

      Like

  3. Since the art scene interested you, perhaps you would be interested in learning about the vibrant music scene in Cambodia that was obliterated by the Khmer Rouge. I was fortunate to be able to see the film, Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock & Roll, in a movie house in San Francisco when it first came out. The place was jam packed with an appreciative audience. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2634200/

    The sound track is available from Dust to Digital, archivists who produce great stuff.
    http://www.dust-digital.com/cambodia/

    Cheers, Ron

    Like

    1. Yes. Definitely! I’m only familiar with Cambodia’s Space Project and Dengue Fever. Thanks so much for the links. I’m going to go hunting for the film now. Cheers, Ron!

      Like

  4. Oh my, Dengue Fever is not high on my list of things I want to become familiar with. Hah! I did a little more looking and found the official website for the film. It gives links for renting and/or buying the film. I confirmed the Amazon link works and successfully played the trailer for the film. It ends with a clip of a song that sent a chill down my back, such beautiful singing!
    http://www.dtifcambodia.com/#!watchnow/cbkl

    Liked by 1 person

  5. How very interesting. You really gave a detailed description of a town and a place I will never see. Thanks for all the pictures and details. I agree it’s always so disappointing when you picked a dud of a restaurant or picking the absolute worst thing on the menu. Such interesting food too. I’m one of those who does not venture too far out of my known food choices. I guess it I’m not willing to experiment too much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. It’s nice to virutally visit places through bloggers, isn’t it?

      Ah, the food of SE Asia. I suppose a lot of it looks rather strange, but surprisingly tastes fine. Not scary at all.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m not sure I would have let myself be taken for a ride on the bamboo train. You were both brave. Your photos are lovely and from them we get a feel of the town and your enthusiasm for it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. It was a nice short getaway. I’m looking forward to getting to know Cambodia more and exploring the quieter sides of life. But maybe I should add safer, too. 😛

      Like

  7. You are making me jealous, haha. But I love the photographs and I’m glad you had a good trip.

    I especially love the photo of the chicken amok in a coconut. That alone would make me go to Cambodia. If I fly down, will you put me up? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No. I’d rather pay for your hotel room. Hahahhaha. I made the mistake of hosting a friend in my home in Thailand and I drove her out of my house. Seriously. I’m such a baby when it comes to my personal space and quiet time. I’m sure it’s some sort of deep seated dysfunctional issue.

      But yeah, come on over! 😀 Thanks Miz. H!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I really enjoyed Battambang as well. It reminded me a little of a river front Isaan town. Did you get that feeling as well?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, definitely. As a former trading route town, I did feel the influences of Thailand, particularly the better planned cities.

      I really loved the riverfront.

      Like

  9. Looks like a great spot to visit though a three hour car drive across Cambodia might put me off :-). (And I completely agree with you about the non-walkability of Siem Reap town.)

    Like the look of the bamboo train: plenty of fresh air and you can always vomit off the side (or between the slats) if you feel ill from motion sickness!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahahhahaa. Oh, god. No, I didn’t feel sick, but it is bumpier than I expected. I wonder how much life is left in those old train tracks!

      The road from SR to Batt is not bad. Truly. It needs work, but it isn’t windy so that makes a big difference.

      Thank you! SR is such a horrible place to walk which for a walker like me is a kind of hell. I’ve gotten used to it, for better or worst.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The sad thing about the PP to Kep road was that the road wasn’t at all windy… only the driving style was. Perhaps I’ll go to Batt without kids.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Wonderful post about a place rest of us don’t know at all. Bike tours would be safer than speeding on a bamboo raft on rails… :0 How long was that raft rail ride or how many kms.?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good question. I’m sorry I didn’t include it. The ride was an hour long. I was surprised when they told us that. But it was peppered with a lot of “changing tracks” or temporary stops.

      Bike tours would be definitely safer 😛 Thanks, Jean!

      Like

  11. Ooooo that looks so fun! I love little art communities like that! You’re really setting aflame my desire to go to Cambodia… it’s definitely moved up on the list 😉

    The bike photos are absolutely gorgeous, especially the rice fields! Biking is my favorite way to explore a new place, I did biking tours in both Bali and Yangshuo (China) and it was the best part of my trip by far!

    Can’t wait to see where your next Cambodia trip will take you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, darlin’.

      Bali! When did you go? Do you have a blog post about it? Have I commented on it and in my old age I’ve forgotten about it? I’ve been meaning to check Bali out.

      Like

  12. Oooh I love bike tours! I think bike pace is perfect–not too slowly you get bored, but not too quickly that you miss something. And you get to feel better about stuffing your face afterwards(during) 🙂 This looked like a lovely place

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Michelle. I guess everyone else is in on how great bike tours are…it’s a good thing I gave it a try. Better late than never, right? 😉

      Yeah, and that’s so true, no guilt binge eating afterwards. Hahahhaa. Cheers!

      Like

    1. Good eye. Yes, it was retched and the smell knocked you off your feet. I think living in SE Asia all this time is what allowed me to endure it. Seriously. It was the most unsanitary place I’ve ever been to.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. What a lovely city! Phnom Penh is suddenly a really popular destination for my friends, but I feel like there must be much more to Cambodia than Angkor Wat and Phnom Penh. Thanks for sharing your lovely photos and your art experience. I love local artists, because you can get a flavor of not only the scenery but the local people and culture from artwork.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How interesting. PP and SR must be cheap right now. Although Cambo is lovely in its own right – my goodness, it is not for everyone.

      Yes to art! 🙂

      Like

  14. Has it really been six months already?! Crazy!
    This looks like so much fun, and when it’s only a 3-hour bus ride you could go once a month even! I love that there is a little local artist scene here in Phuket (really the only thing that could be defined as slightly cultural here) and have started scoping out pieces that I want already. 🙂
    Happy new year!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds like you are nesting if you are looking for art. I feel the same way. Cool.

      I had no idea Phuket had a little art scene. Nice. I must remember that for the future getaway that is Phuket. Hahahhaa. Must.go.

      Happy New Year to you as well! xxoo

      Liked by 1 person

  15. The bamboo train really does sound like an adventure in itself. Though it may be rickety, I’m sure they don’t break down as often as our trains on real wheels here in Melbourne 😀 Did you try the sticky rice bamboo? It looks like the seller made a lot for that day. Then again, that is what many Asian food sellers do…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, we got to sample the sticky rice in the bamboo, but like I said my mom loves this, so I feel like I’ve eaten this often. Usually in an attempt to help her finish it 😀

      OH, I’m sure the train is perfectly safe – until someone gets hurt. 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Looks like you guys had a wonderful time in Battambang. Such a charming place. Cambodia’s on my travel list, and has been for a while. Planning a trip to Vietnam next month, be great to hit up Cambodia too, but not sure we’ll get the chance!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellent. Looking forward to hearing about Vietnam. It’s on my list, but it’s not high on my list. I’ll live vicariously through you until then 😉

      Like

  17. looove this post. had i already told you how much i love Battambang? i probably did in an email, huh? It’s definitely my fav. city, more so than siem reap (although SR is cool too!). i really love the old skool french architecture of the city area but how it retains the countryside, agricultural feel of Cambodia. i have never ridden the bamboo train although i think i seen the train station for it. i probably won’t ride it though, so i’m glad i got to live vicariously through you. =)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I love Battambang, too. Wish we could move there, truly, but the money is here.

      Yes, it does retain the countryside and ag feel – we didn’t go very far at all before we were in “country-feeling” neighborhoods.

      Hugs!

      Liked by 1 person

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