Battambang is the second largest city in Cambodia, but with it’s laid back feel and friendly locals, it has more of a small town vibe. While there isn’t that much to do in the city itself, there are great things to see and do just a short tuk tuk drive away.
We were going to hire our own motorbike and do some sightseeing independently, but after meeting our tuk tuk driver who took us from the bus station to our guest house, we decided we would do a full day tour with him instead. This was considerably more expensive than what a motorbike would have been, but tuk tuk’s are a lot of fun and we were giving a local a day of work. Win win.
Wat Ek Phnom
This 11th century temple is located about 13kms north of Battambang. Is is well and truly abandoned and we were the only tourists there on our visit. There is a small fee to pay for admission (US$2 each) and to wander among the scattered ruins is fantastic. There is small school by the temple where children are taught in an open air building – make sure to have respect for their learning and refrain from taking any photos or approaching too closely.
Like Ek Phnom, this is an 11th century temple and is located some 22kms south of Battambang. There is a punishing 358 step ascent to reach the top and unfortunately its remote location has meant it hasn’t been well protected with graffiti and looting. Still, we loved this place as it was virtually tourist free when we were there and it was a great way to warm up for the sort of experience we were hoping for at Angkor. Again, there is a small admission fee (US$2 each).
Located 12km southwest of Battambang, Phnom Sampeau is a mountain with many caves and a temple perched on top. You can either walk up the many stairs to the top (the locals will tell you there are 1,000 stairs to the top – this isn’t true…) OR you can hire a motorbike driver to take you to the top and/or back. We started to walk along the road to the top, but I was quite quickly convinced to jump on the back of the bike and Tim obliged (this cost about US$3).
Halfway to the top of the mountains lies the Killing Caves of Phnom Sampeau. This cave has now become a place of pilgrimage. Inside the cave is a beautiful reclining Buddha and a case full of skulls from some of the victims that were killed by the Khmer Rouge. If you haven’t already read our post on the Khmer Rouge, you can read it here. A very moving place to visit.
Upon reaching the top of the mountain, there is a temple that is home to many cheeky monkeys. Keep a tight hold onto your belongings! The views out are stunning and we chose to take the stairs back to the bottom (again, there are definitely not 1,000!).
If you plan your visit like we did, you will reach the bottom around dusk. You can grab a plate of food and a beer and sit and watch the bats emerge from the cave.
Small stops to add in
Although I have mentioned the three main places to visit, if you go down the tuk tuk route chances are you will stop along the way to taste some sweet sticky rice, rice paper being made and also a local fish market. These are all small stops that you can incorporate into your day that will add another layer. Note: sweet sticky rice is yummy!
On our way back to Battambang, our tuk tuk driver stopped on the side of the road and insisted that we try some cooked grasshoppers.. We had one each and decided that was enough for us – but they were actually flavoured really nicely.. I just didn’t like getting the legs stuck in my teeth, you know?
Also, I need to mention that our tuk tuk driver is a bit of a celebrity in Cambodia. We noticed that a lot of locals were waving hello, giving him free food and generally just cozy-ing up to him. He is a famous boxer in Cambodia and was great fun. He told us that he didn’t make enough money boxing so had to drive a tuk tuk. Crazy when we thought about how much our sporting stars get paid in Australia and the UK.
Tim’s sunrise tip
Battamabng is home to many young monks who, at least on the morning I went out, make their way to study at the largest temple in the town, Wat Kandal. Keeping my distance I worked out where they were all going and sat back to watch their commute to morning class.