Planning a trip to Battambang? My city guide covers all the best things to do in Battambang – including lesser-known gems – plus hotel, bar and restaurant recommendations, and transport instructions.
Battambang city, the provincial capital of Battambang Province in western Cambodia, is known for three things: Its expertly preserved French colonial architecture, its burgeoning creative scene, and its plentiful rice harvest (hence the nickname ‘Cambodia’s rice barn’).
Once the country’s unofficial cultural capital, Battambang (pronounced ‘Battam-bong‘)used to be the epicentre of Cambodian art and music. If you know anything about the Pol Pot regime, you’ll understand why Battambang was hit hard. It’s estimated that 90% of Cambodia’s artists didn’t survive the genocide. (I hate the idea of reducing individual lives to a percentage point, but that’s the only data available). Many of them lived and worked in Battambang.
Today, the sleepy streets of Battambang are once again bubbling with vibrant cafes, artist-run galleries and boutique shops. Just outside the city, you can find some of Cambodia’s premier outdoor attractions and unusual activities, including the famous bamboo railway.
Life in Battambang runs parallel to the banks of the Sangkae river and seeps out over pancake-flat rice fields into stilted villages, fruit orchards and crumbling temples, culminating in the modest peak of Sampeou mountain. It really is a beautiful, tranquil place.
Battambang has an energy like no other city I’ve experienced in Cambodia. Give me a bicycle and I could easily spend a month tracing its wide boulevards and never get bored!
I spent the better part of a week in Battambang when I lived in Cambodia. Although I haven’t been back since, I’m yearning to. This guide (which I took great pleasure in updating – it brings back so many good memories!) is designed for anyone who is planning to stay in Battambang for one or two days.
In This Post
- First impressions of Battambang
- How to get to Battambang
- Where to stay in Battambang
- Battambang map
- How to spend one day in Battambang: Classic Battambang things to do
- Battambang Central Market (Psar Nat)
- Join a ‘greater Battambang’ day tour
- Battambang bamboo train
- Wat Kor village
- Wat Po Veal temple
- Chan Thai Choeung Winery
- Phnom Sampeau
- Phare Circus
- 2 days in Battambang or more: Quirky & unusual things to do in Battambang
- Go on a self-guided architecture walking tour
- Walk down Buffalo Alley
- Take a bicycle tour with Soksabike
- Join a cooking class
- See contemporary art at Romcheik 5
- Have afternoon tea at The Lonely Tree Café
- Shop for souvenirs at Bric-a-Brac
- Have a drink at Bambu Hotel
- Drink coffee at Kinyei Café
- Find a piece of art to take home
- Battambang Night Market
- Where to eat and drink in Battambang
- Cambodia essentials
- 5 things to pack for Battambang
- More Cambodia travel resources
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First impressions of Battambang
Spirituality, superstition and memories of a tragic past are more pronounced in Battambang than anywhere else I’ve visited in Cambodia. You can feel it in the air.
Once a colonial outpost, Battambang is now home to Cambodia’s highest number of artists per capita. Along with hoteliers, restaurateurs and social entrepreneurs, they are responsible for salvaging some of the city’s most beautiful and important landmarks and putting them to good use as cafes, boutique hotels and galleries.
Central Battambang is an interesting mix of Chinese shop houses and grand colonial buildings. The city is framed by a single road that follows the curve of the river. From there, it only takes minutes to drift into a bucolic landscape of dirt roads and rice paddies.
The beating heart of Battambang is the Central Market – an example of New Khmer Architecture that’s hard to find anywhere else outside Phnom Penh. On the city’s outskirts lie crumbling temples (many of which pre-date Angkor) and Wat Kor Village, with its stilted houses and French-speaking matriarchs who pad the ancient floorboards, waiting for visitors to drop in.
More than 800 heritage facades can be found in Battambang’s ‘central zone’, secured by the German Development Service’s ‘Our City – Our Heritage’ project. (Rumours that Battambang will receive UNESCO Heritage status have been circulating since the mid-2000s.) This includes an Art Deco cinema that’s being used as a parking garage, and the oldest structure of all, a lovingly tended Chinese temple.
Vibrant shopfronts litter the city centre like confetti and murals depict some of the area’s just-as-colourful historic characters.
South of the centre is the once-walled area known as Kampaeng fort. This is where you’ll find most of Battambang’s built vestiges of French rule in the form of handsome colonial buildings. Both zones are easily explored in an afternoon on foot or bicycle using free maps produced by Khmer Architecture Tours.
How to get to Battambang
Unfortunately, my bus company of preference for long journeys in Cambodia, Giant Ibis (the same company I recently used to get from Bangkok to Siem Reap), doesn’t service Battambang.
Instead, you’ll have to take a local bus, either a coach or minivan. Not all Cambodian bus companies have a good safety record. I’ve tried to select the most reputable (we personally chose to travel with Mekong Express when we visited Battambang). As always, I highly recommend you avoid travelling by road in Cambodia after dark.
If you don’t mind paying a bit extra, you can travel from Phnom Penh or Siem Reap to Battambang by hiring a private car and driver for the day. This is definitely the most comfortable and quickest way to travel.
If you’re really pressed for time or you just prefer to be accompanied by a guide, you can also join a full-day tour to Battambang from Siem Reap.
Phnom Penh to Battambang
You are spoiled for choice, with 14 daily departures from Phnom Penh, arriving in Battambang within 5 to 6 hours depending on traffic. There are four companies to choose from: Mekong Express (12 USD), Bayon VIP (10 USD), Meanchey Express (9 USD), and Cambodia Post VIP Van (9 USD).
The first bus at at 7am and the last leaves at 5.30pm. Cambodia Post VIP Van is the most reliable choice, but you’ll have to get in quick if you want to grab a seat on their single daily service, which leaves at 7.30am from outside the Phnom Penh Post Office (and yes, you probably will be sharing your seat with some cartons of mail! Fun!).
Tickets for all Phnom Penh to Battambang buses can be purchased in advance or on the day at the company offices, or online in advance through Baolau.
Alternatively, you can catch a private taxi to Battambang from Phnom Penh. Expect to pay between 70-90 USD one-way. Your accommodation in Phnom Penh (or Battambang) will be able to arrange this for you.
Siem Reap to Battambang
If you’re planning on going to Battambang from Siem Reap, there are two daily Mekong Express buses departing at 8am and 2pm. The trip takes about 3 hours and costs 8 USD. The bus leaves from the Mekong Express branch on the corner of Central Market Street and Sivutha Boulevard. Book tickets online through Baolau.
A Siem Reap to Battambang taxi costs roughly 50-60 USD one-way and can be organised through your accommodation at either end.
Where to stay in Battambang
Battambang has a good range of accommodation options for different budgets and travel styles. There are a few hotels right in the centre; however, I recommend staying on the edges of town at one of the ‘Siem Reap-style villas’ that comes with a pool.
Top choice: The Sanctuary Villa
Leafy gardens and boardwalks, open-air pavilions, a beautiful pool, and rooms that open straight out onto a courtyard. I absolutely love The Sanctuary Villa and always recommend it to friends who are visiting Battambang.
Staff are extremely friendly and helpful, and the breakfast served daily is great, and there are bikes available to hire. With only a few very private villas, the real highlight here is the tranquil atmosphere – that might be down to the fact that we were the only guests when we stayed here for 5 nights over a holiday weekend!
Doubles start from just 30 USD, making this an excellent value-for-money choice in Battambang.
Budget Battambang hotels
The Place (from 5 USD) is located just north of the Central Market. This trendy hostel offers dorm-style accommodation (with privacy curtains) as well as double or twin rooms. With a rooftop bar and nicely designed rooms, it’s no wonder this a top choice for travellers who are wanting to get the best bang for their buck.
More minimalistic in style, Lucky Hostel and Guesthouse is another great budget option for backpackers (from 3 USD). More room options are available here, and there are even family rooms. The location is great, with the Central Market only an 8-minute walk away.
Mid-range Battambang hotels
Ramchang Guesthouse (from 10 USD) is the perfect choice if you want a mid-priced, relaxing stay in Battambang. Take advantage of the pool to cool down, and when you’re ready to go into town, you can jump on one of their free bicycles or get a tuk tuk for about 2 USD.
The Royal Hotel is a better option if you’d rather stay in the middle of town. With simple and clean rooms from 12 USD, it’s great value. There is even a jacuzzi! Just a note, there is no lift at this hotel.
Boutique Battambang hotels & resorts
Bric-a-Brac is a beautifully designed boutique hotel set in a restored colonial building right in the middle of Battambang. There are only a few rooms (from 113 USD), each impeccably decorated by the hotel’s owners, who are designers by trade. Breakfast is included, and there’s a lovely speakeasy-style bar on site.
Even if you’re not staying, I highly recommend dropping into Bric-a-Brac to visit the downstairs shop (more in the next section!).
Battambang Resort is located south of the city and is a solid option for anyone who wants a spacious room, lush surroundings and a chance to relax in or beside the pool. I especially recommend it for families. Although it is out of the city, there’s a delicious restaurant on-site, and breakfast comes included. Prices start from 113 USD.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Browse more Battambang accommodation options on Agoda.
How to spend one day in Battambang: Classic Battambang things to do
If you have just one day to spend in Battambang, add these top Battambang attractions to your list. If it’s your second visit or you’re into hidden gems, skip ahead to Day 2, where I offer my ‘alternative Battambang’ recommendations.
Battambang Central Market (Psar Nat)
No matter what city you’re visiting in Cambodia or anywhere else in Southeast Asia, I always recommend starting your day with a visit to the local market.
As the name suggests, Battambang’s Central Market (Psar Nat in Khmer) is located smack-bang in the middle of the city, and is the main marketplace for food, household goods, and other products. For a local experience, pull up a stool at one of the little restaurants inside the market hall and order yourself a bowl of kuy teav noodle soup, a traditional Cambodian breakfast.
But before you venture inside, pause to admire the facade, which is a great example of Art Deco architecture. Built by French engineers in 1936, the yellow colour, tiered roof and clock tower are all signature design elements you see mirrored in the big markets in Phnom Penh and Kampong Cham (and in Saigon, too, for that matter).
Psar Nat is open daily from 6am to 6pm. Like other markets in Cambodia, it’s best to visit in the morning when the produce is plentiful and people watching opportunities are at their peak.
Join a ‘greater Battambang’ day tour
The easiest way to get out and explore the countryside around Battambang is by organising a tuk tuk through your accommodation. The standard itinerary includes a jaunt on the bamboo railway, wine tasting at a local vineyard, a visit to Wat Kor village, and a stop at one of two pre-Angkorian temples on the outskirts of town.
With sunset at Sampeou mountain thrown in, this will take you the better part of a day. Booked through your hotel, it should cost 15-20 USD – or you can go direct and tee something up with a driver on the street (they all carry laminated maps and picture guides).
We were lucky that our driver spoke good English and could narrate some of the more obscure sights for us. If we had our time again, we would skip the winery.
The next 6 things to do in Battambang are all part of a standard day tour itinerary.
Battambang bamboo train
By far Battambang’s most popular tourist attraction, the bamboo train (or bamboo railway) is a short stretch of track on the outskirts of the city.
Born out of necessity in the years after the civil war, the train was originally used to ferry people and produce around this part of Cambodia. Only a tiny section of the railway is still in-tact. The name ‘bamboo train’ comes from the flatbed platform that passengers (all tourists, mind you – locals don’t use it anymore) ride on.
The ‘norry’ runs at up to 50km per hour, which all things considered, actually feels pretty fast! Once it reaches the end of the line, the norry is disassembled and transferred to an adjacent set of tracks to take you back to the starting point.
The bamboo train costs 5 USD per person for a 20-minute ride. Bring a cotton scarf to wrap around your face – otherwise you’ll get a mouthful of midges!
Wat Kor village
There are dozens of picturesque stilted villages dotted around Battambang. Wat Kor, 2km south of Battambang, contains a number of heritage hardwood houses.
I love architecture, so this was my favourite spot on the tour. We visited Mrs Bun Roeung’s house and Khor Sang house, two of the oldest in the area (there are about 20 in total). Walking the floorboards of homes built in the early 1900s – surrounded by old photos and other family artefacts – is really special, particularly if the French-speaking matriarch is at home to show you around.
Wat Po Veal temple
Shaded by tall palms and ringed with towering white columns, Wat Po Veal is a sight to behold. One of the biggest active Buddhist pagodas in Battambang, it’s definitely worth a visit if you enjoy tranquil gardens and temple architecture.
The interior is a different story. In years gone by, Wat Po Veal was home to one Cambodia’s leading museums. Sadly, the collection of Angkorian treasures has been neglected and is currently gathering dust in the basement.
Chan Thai Choeung Winery
This very ‘rustic’ winery – one of only a handful in Cambodia – has a cellar door where you can sample red wine, rice wine and liqueur.
Phnom Sampeau, Battambang’s highest peak, is most readily associated with the thick swarms of bats that escape from its limestone caves every evening like clockwork. It’s a great place to watch sunset – but the so-called ‘Battambang bat cave’ has a dark history.
Also known as the ‘Killing Caves’, the site is located about 11km southwest of Battambang. A pagoda and sombre display of human skulls (similar to that at Cheoung Ek in Phnom Penh) marks the spot where so many Cambodians lost their lives during the Khmer Rouge regime.
After visiting the caves and paying your respects, you can continue to the summit to take in the city views (good walking shoes are essential). Come dusk, millions of bats fly out of the caves to visit their feeding grounds, painting the sky with a stroke of black ink.
The most popular nighttime activity in Battambang is Phare Circus (Phare Ponleu Selpak). It doesn’t involve any animals, rather it’s a display of physical theatre, acrobatics and dance.
Phare was founded in 1994 by a group of young Cambodian friends after they returned home from a refugee camp. Using art as a tool for healing, they opened a community school and started offering professional arts training. Today, more than 1,200 pupils attend the school, and other 500 take advantage of Phare’s free vocational arts training programs. Proceeds from the sale of tickets are used to fund their outreach work.
If you only have one night in Battambang, I highly recommend booking tickets in advance. There’s a rotating program of shows, with performances on most nights (check the calendar here). The circus is located about 10-minute tuk-tuk ride north-west of the city centre. If you’re up for a challenge, there’s also an opportunity to take part in a workshop through Backstreet Academy to learn some circus skills.
2 days in Battambang or more: Quirky & unusual things to do in Battambang
If you have more time to spend in Battambang or you’d rather skip the touristy sights in favour of something more local, here are my favourite alternative things to do in Battambang city.
Go on a self-guided architecture walking tour
As I’ve mentioned, Battambang has hundreds of beautifully preserved French-era buildings. Free PDF maps produced by Khmer Architecture Tours (Central & South) include all the highlights and can easily be covered by bicycle in an afternoon. Just be aware that some of the sites – notably The Royal Bungalow – are off limits to the public and only visible through locked gates.
My favourite stop on the architecture tour, Battambang’s Chinese temple, is the oldest structure inside the city’s conservation area. It boasts some incredibly vivid murals inside. You can read all about the history of the spirit house on the KAT Central map – or strike up a conversation with the watchman who will happily let you in and show you around.
Walk down Buffalo Alley
Buffalo Alley, or Kampung Krabey, takes its name from the farmers who used to take their livestock down the pathway as a shortcut to the river. Today, it’s a trendy laneway lined with cafes and shops.
Take a bicycle tour with Soksabike
Hiring a bicycle in Battambang is fantastic way to explore the city and the surrounding countryside. On a bike tour with socially responsible company Soksabike, you’ll see rice fields, small villages and some of the area’s top temples, including Wat Ek Phnom and Wat Kor. Soksabike run a vocational program for youth and involve local families in their tours.
Join a cooking class
Smokin’ Pot, Nary Kitchen and Coconut Lyly all offer hands-on cooking classes so you can learn how to recreate your favourite Khmer dishes at home. Battambang is the ideal place to do a cooking class in Cambodia – groups are generally smaller, and many cooking classes are set in countryside kitchens.
See contemporary art at Romcheik 5
With more artists per capita than anywhere else in Cambodia, Battambang prides itself on being a creative city. There are plenty of galleries and studio spaces in the heart of town, but Romcheik 5 – a relatively recent addition to the scene – is by far my favourite.
Located over the bridge and down a dirt road, Romcheik 5 functions as both an artists’ commune and a display/performance space. Four young Khmer creatives live here with their families, and a permanent display of their work can be viewed upstairs. The downstairs gallery is set aside for special exhibitions.
There’s also a cool rooftop cafe on site that opened in 2019.
Have afternoon tea at The Lonely Tree Café
Not only does Lonely Tree have one of Battambang’s loveliest interiors, it also has a great food and drink menu. When an afternoon storm is rolling its way over Battambang, Lonely Tree’s covered balcony is where you want to be – sipping on a cold beer and digging into a slice of homemade key lime pie.
Don’t leave without having a look at the shop downstairs, which sells cotton shirts, a handful of upcycled vintage garments, a great selection of krama scarves, jewellery, and other assorted souvenirs. Most things are made locally in Battambang, crafted by people with physical disabilities (hence the decorative wheelchair hanging from the shop ceiling).
I was really impressed with the quality of fabrics and contemporary, well considered designs: comfy Thai-style pants (every traveller’s dream) and lightweight throwovers (perfect for protecting shoulders from the sun). We both picked up a few button-down shirts.
Shop for souvenirs at Bric-a-Brac
Run by Australian artist Morrison Polkinghorne and his partner, Bric–a–Brac is a beautiful studio/shop/bar/boutique hotel in the heart of Battambang.
Set in a beautiful four-story heritage building, the shop downstairs stocks an eclectic edit of vintage odds and ends. Morrison spent 18 years travelling around Asia before moving to Cambodia (including more than 50 trips to Myanmar!), and the evidence of his adventures (and his passion for handmade items) is splashed all over the shop floor.
The real joy of Bric–a–Brac is the sheer volume of tassels and trimmings on display. Many are antiques, but most have been handmade by Morrison and his staff for his label Passementeries. The colours; the textures; the shapes… My preconceptions of tassels as boring little afterthoughts added onto textiles has completely changed!
There is one specialty loom on the shop floor where you can see bullion fringe weaving in action. The equipment, the process and the unusual story of how Morrison got involved in the niche business of tassels and trimmings are all quite incredible.
Bric-a-Brac is also home to a boutique hotel and in the evenings, a footpath bar.
Have a drink at Bambu Hotel
Located on the opposite bank of the river, Bambu Hotel is a beautifully restored colonial-era villa. Even if you’re not staying here, it’s worth dropping in for a poolside drink if only to admire the hotel lobby’s press-tiled floors.
Drink coffee at Kinyei Café
Managed by Feel Good Coffee, Kinyei is owned by its Khmer staff and offers a vocational training program for local youth. They also make the best coffee in town!
Be sure to visit their cafes in Phnom Penh as well.
Find a piece of art to take home
Tep Kao Sol is one of a dozen shop/galleries in town that sells framed and unframed prints and postcards bearing line sketches and watercolour illustrations of Battambang, Angkor and other recognisable Cambodian subjects. They also stock DIY art supplies, including recycled paper.
Battambang Night Market
The Battambang Night Market is located on the Snagker River next to Central Market. Starting at around 4pm, this local-orientated market is a good place to try Battambang street food.
Where to eat and drink in Battambang
Jaan Bai is a social enterprise restaurant that specialises in modern Khmer cuisine. Offering seasonal produce and top-class cocktails, it’s a foodies delight. All profits go to the Cambodian Children’s Trust, a very worthy non-profit that works to improve the lives of vulnerable and impoverished young people. More info and reviews here.
Nary Kitchen offers diners traditional Cambodian dishes prepared in a home-style kitchen from fresh ingredients. They also offer a popular cooking class, so you can learn how to make some of their delicious dishes at home. More info and reviews here.
If you are looking for a change from Khmer food, Flavors of India can supply your masala and naan fix. The restaurant is located on Street 121, near the river. More info and reviews here.
The Balcony is a popular expat haunt in Battambang and runs a good program of sports/film screenings and events. The location, a tumble-down wooden stilted house on the river, is very atmospheric. Drinks are affordable, and there’s thin-crust pizza on the menu. Visit their Facebook page for more information.
Head up to The Place Rooftop Bar and Restaurant if you want to chill out and exchange stories with fellow travellers. Cheap beer and a mix of western and Khmer food are the go. More info and reviews here.
Planning a trip to Cambodia? Here are some of the resources and tools I personally use to organise my travel plans in the Kingdom.
– Find affordable flights to Cambodia on Kiwi.com, a booking site that mixes and matches airlines to find the best route (there’s a money back guarantee if you miss a connection).
– Use iVisa to check if you need a tourist visa for Cambodia and apply for an expedited visa online.
– Pre-book your hotel transfer from Phnom Penh Airport or Siem Reap Airport.
– Find the best hotel deals in Cambodia on Agoda, book a Cambodia hostel, or find a unique Airbnb (sign up here and get $55 AUD off your first Airbnb booking).
– Buy your Cambodia bus tickets online in advance through 12GoAsia or organise a private car and driver through BookMeBus.
– Download Pass App to book tuk-tuks and taxis on the go.
– Find the best cooking classes and foodie experiences in Cambodia.
– Find the best city tours and day excursions in Cambodia.
– Try an alternative tour or DIY experience with social enterprise Backstreet Academy.
– Pick up a copy of the latest Lonely Planet guidebook for Cambodia.
5 things to pack for Battambang
- A reusable water bottle. Absolutely essential in Cambodia for minimising plastic waste and staying hydrated. I love my S’Well water bottle – it’s vacuum insulated to keep water icy cold for the whole day, and it doesn’t sweat. If you like your mango smoothies, pack a reusable smoothie cup as well.
- Rehydration tablets or sachets. At the end of a long day bike riding or exploring temples, your body will be crying out for electrolytes (believe me!). I prefer Hydralyte tablets because they come in a handy tube. If you forget to bring some from home, the Double D brand is sold at most pharmacies and grocery stores in Cambodia.
- Rain jacket and travel umbrella for the wet season. Wet season is my favourite time to travel in Cambodia because the countryside is so verdant. Downpours come out of nowhere, so it’s essential to have a rain jacket with you at all times (I love the packable rain jackets by Lomon for women and EZRUN for men). I also carry a travel umbrella in case it’s too hot and steamy to wear a jacket. This one is UPF 50+, making it great for sun cover as well.
- A sturdy day pack. An anti-theft backpack is particularly good for the cities, especially Phnom Penh. Opt for a minimalist backpack that doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb.
- Cambodia guide book. I prefer Lonely Planet’s dedicated Cambodia guidebook or regional guidebook that also covers Laos, Vietnam and Northern Thailand.
More Cambodia travel resources
- Best Siem Reap tours for every budget and interest
- Where to stay in Phnom Penh
- Where to eat breakfast in Phnom Penh and where to find the best coffee in Phnom Penh
- 51 free things to do in Phnom Penh – the ultimate list
- Resort style swimming pools in Phnom Penh
- How to use PassApp to book a tuk tuk in Cambodia
- 41 things to do in Kampot
- Where to stay in Kampot
- My guide to Battambang, Cambodia’s cultural capital
- My guide to Kampong Cham, northern Cambodia’s most charming town
- My guide to Kratie, home of Cambodia’s best sunset!