In the last five months I’ve seen a fair bit of Cambodia, but on my last trip I never made it to Battambang. Lonely Planet made it sound like a fun, if quiet place to visit. Lonely Planet is wrong. Battambang is pretty boring.
After the seven-hour boat trip from Siem Reap we were exhausted so we grabbed a tuk tuk and checked into a guest house. The next day we wandered around the town before realizing that we’d be better off spending an extra day in Phnom Penh.
While the colonial architecture is indeed beautiful, other than exploring the temples or taking a heritage walking tour, there really isn’t much to do in Battambang. Around 12km from Battambang are the Killing Caves, but after seeing the Killing Fields and S-21 I quite frankly couldn’t face seeing any more evidence of the atrocities that the Khmer Rouge performed.
The one thing I wanted to do was ride the bamboo train in Battambang. We booked a bus for the afternoon, and decided to spend the morning chugging through the countryside.
The way the railway works is quite cool. Basically all there is to it is a platform, an engine, and two barbell shaped wheels.
As we traveled down the tracks we would occasionally meet a train coming from the other direction. In this case, whichever train was carrying the least people had to leave the tracks and give way to the other train.
Along the way we got to see a little of everyday life in Battambang.
Once we arrived at the end of the line our driver told us that we had to wait for ten minutes. We had a bus to catch and would have preferred to head straight back but he obviously had a deal with the owners of the stores, and we were immediately surrounded by kids and the store owners were pleading with us to look at their stuff.
Of course my mum couldn’t resist the kids, and ended up buying a bunch of bracelets. The kids are pretty talented and can make the coolest things out of anything.
There are really only two reasons to visit Battambang. One is the boat ride from Siem Reap, which is one of the most scenic journeys in Southeast Asia, and the second is the bamboo railway. If you have a few days spare it’s worth a visit, but if you’re running on a tight schedule it’s best to give it a miss.
We had a brilliant tuk tuk driver called Nicky, who spoke excellent English and was incredibly knowledgeable. He kept cool drinks in the tuk tuk, warned us of scams, and gave us useful advice. If you do make it to Battambang be sure to look him up: