Battambang Province, Cambodia
Battambang is a relaxed and laid back town sitting on the banks of the Sangker Riverjust to the south west of the Tonle Sap lake, and is in the heart of Cambodia’s ‘rice bowl’. Battambang is primarily a farmer and trader town and makes a refreshing change from the tourist town of Siem Reap as it still has a very local, untouristed, provincial atmosphere. Much of the town’s architecture is French colonial and traditional Cambodian with very few buildings over three stories. The main streets are shared by cars, motorbikes, bicycles, and horse carts making Battambang a pleasant place to explore for a day or two on foot. The Battambang Museum, located on the riverside, contains some interesting Angkor-era artifacts taken from the surrounding countryside, and there is a small exhibition hall next door which often has interesting displays. Battambang is also home to some of the most interesting pagodas in Cambodia, such as Wat Sangker, Wat Kandal, and Wat Damrei Sor, and they are certainly worth visiting as you stroll around enjoying the colonial architecture and laid-back ambiance.
Battambang and the surrounding area is steeped in folklore. Look out for the statue of the black Ta Dambong in the middle of a roundabout. Battambang is Khmer for ‘disappearing stick’, and legend has it that a local cowherd named Ta Dambong found a magic stick and used it to usurp the then King. The King's son escaped by running off to the woods and became a monk. In the meantime, Ta Dambong enjoyed ruling the area with the help of his powerful stick. However, one night he had a dream that some day a holy man on a white horse would vanquish him, so he decided it would be a good idea to have all the holy men rounded up and put to death. When the prince, now a practicing monk, heard he was required to go into town a hermit came up and gave him a white horse. When the prince got on the horse he discovered it could fly and he flew into town. Upon seeing this holy man on a flying white horse Ta Dambong realised his dream was coming true, in a attempt to kill the ‘holy man’ he threw his magic stick at him, but seeing this fail he fled the area and was never seen again.
The countryside surrounding Battambang is quite beautiful (especially when the rice paddies are sprouting), including many old pagodas such as Wat Kor, and Wat Ksach Puoy, the Angkorian era ruins of Phnom Banan and Wat Ek Phnom, caves, waterfalls, mountain viewpoints, and even the Khmer Rouge period killing caves at Phnom Sampeau. As you leave the town the scene quickly becomes one of small villages, within just a few kilometers of town the countryside is filled with stilted houses, ancient covered bridges, and rice paddies that stretch to the horizon, broken by occasional hills intriguingly named after local folklore such as Crocodile Mountain, Duck Cage Hill, and Turtle Mountain. During the dry season as the waters of the Sangker River recede the river banks are planted with a wide range of fruit and vegetables making the local village markets, such as Ksach Puoy, a great place to purchase local produce. In the late afternoon light the rural scenery is simply breathtaking. You will also witness local products in the making - silk weaving rice paper, noodles and fish paste.
Two attractions unique to Battambang that should not be missed are 1) the Circus! - a local NGO, Phare Ponleu Selpak, gives youths from deprived backgrounds the opportunity to channel their energies creatively learning skills such as juggling, tumbling, acrobatics and clowning, whilst raising public awareness of important contemporary issues such as HIV/AIDS, landmines, and child rights; and 2) a vineyard! - the only one in Cambodia, a family run business, Prasat Phnom Banan was established in 2001 and is now producing various varieties of wine. After exploring Phnom Banan why not drop-by for a bite to eat and more importantly a glass or two of Cambodian Shiraz...
Taking a Battambang tour offers an excellent opportunity for you to see a bit of 'unspoiled' rural Cambodia.