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- 26 Jan 2020, 3 nights
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With a thriving art scene, welcoming local cafés and offbeat attractions, Battambang is more than worth a detour on your trip around Cambodia. This laid-back city lures travellers with quirky activities like visiting a performing arts school or going on a train made from bamboo. Set on the Sangkae River and packed with colonial buildings and independent galleries, Battambang has a healthy dose of charm as well.
Battambang hostels are social spaces designed to help you meet other travellers. Pick a place with a rooftop bar where you can chat over Khmer coffee, or one with relaxed floor seating and bohemian vibes in its common room. You'll also find hostels that have indoor or outdoor pool areas that double as sun traps, while others have tropical grounds and a roof terrace where you can unwind with yoga or a film. For a local experience, go for a Battambang hostel in a cosy homestay hosted by friendly Cambodians.
The centre of Battambang is the main neighbourhood to explore, especially for food that ranges from humble street stalls to fancy French fare at non-profits reinvesting in the community. For architecture, the most eye-catching buildings line the banks of the Sangkae River, including the vibrant yellow Art Deco Psar Nat market hall. Head outside the city for a look at rural life at Pheam Ek village, where you can see locals crafting rice paper discs (for wrapping around fresh spring rolls) by hand.
For a small city, Battambang is full of unexpected things to do, like visiting wineries, kayaking down the Sangkae River or taking in a performance of an NGO-run circus that teaches disadvantaged young people new skills. But perhaps the strangest sight happens every evening, about 12km from the city: as night falls, a long stream of bats spill out of a cave's entrance for up to half an hour. You can watch the phenomenon from plastic stools set up by locals below the cave mouth.
Buses from Siem Reap take 3 hours to reach Battambang, while Phnom Penh is 5 hours away. Outside dry season, you can take a boat from Siem Reap (a 7-hour trip) via the Bak Preah floating village as the most scenic way to get to the city. After you arrive, renting a motorbike – or hailing a ride on one – is the most convenient way to travel around. You can also catch a boat to cross the river from outside the market.