My first impression of Battambang was the sheer amount of phone shops there are along the river. Dozens upon dozens lined up next to each other- I had no idea Battambang was such a budding hub for phone repairs… How I wish I now that I hadn’t noticed them at all.
When my phone broke for the millionth time, I panicked (why is this happening again), went into one of the stores, foolishly allowed one of the IT guys to “fix” my phone and then wham, bam thank you mam my personal security gets compromised. I’m not sure whether he installed spyware onto the phone or whether he took information from it and put it onto his computer…but either way DO NOT get your device fixed in Battambang. Whilst I feel a bit silly relaying that potentially obvious information – I feel it is my duty to!
Now that my pre-warning is out of the way I can tell you about the goings on in Battambang. Pronounced Battam-bong.
Eat, sleep, beer repeat
It was one of my best friends that recommended Here Be Dragons hostel and knowing she’s a trusty source and we both look for similar vibes; I was happy to go ahead with her recommendation. And I’m SO glad I did.
The staff are chilled, friendly and fun and really go out of their way – on one night they kept the bar open for my friend and I until 4am so we could watch England play (and lose) – and we weren’t even staying there that night!
Regular film and GoT showings on the rooftop, as well as lots of delicious food and drinks on the menu is the reason this place attracts both backpackers on a budget and locals. Did I mention the Brucey bonus ping pong table… And my two victories versus USA and Russia. England may have lost in the Euros, but I gained us some dignity back that night;).
At $5 a night you can bag yourself a spot in the A/C room.
Even in low season this hostel gets fully booked – which we sadly became victim to (it really is that good). So book this one in advance. If that fails, stay around the corner at Spring Park Hotel. There’s nothing to do there but sleep, which is why we returned every night to HBD for beers. Starts at $8 a room, but you’re a stone throw away from HBD.
What can you do in Battambang?
If you’ve looked up the area you may have read about the Bamboo train, the killing caves and the bat caves. We ticked all of these boxes in one afternoon – which is totally doable.
Firstly, must mention our tour guide and driver for the day – Kim. Wandering around the streets of Battambang, Kim caught us tourists just at the right time (we’d just been talking about how we wanted to explore) pulled over and gave us a comprehensive pitch. His English is great, which is a rarity for many tuk tuk drivers –he is one of the few who will offer you a tour and be able to give you the history and background. He also complements his information with comedy and magic – win / win from where I’m standing. Highly recommend him. For the full afternoon, he charges $12 per person.
As for the Bamboo train – you’ll pay $5 for a round trip. Whilst I recommend you do this tick box exercise – mainly because the train ride ceases next year – its major flaw is that it isn’t made of bamboo anymore. But it’s still fun. Be warned, when you get to the village at the end you will be given a very hard sell from many small young girls looking to sell you bracelets. Whilst they’re only children, it was probably the most uncomfortable I have felt.
Our next stop was the killing caves, which much like S-21, was pretty horrific.
Then a view from the top, where there are a few temples. We chose to get a lift due to time. At the top you’ll see lots of monkeys – baby ones and big, boisterous ones, mainly in the trees. They weren’t much trouble though and it’s pretty cool to see wild monkeys that close – even if I spent most of my time worrying I’d get bitten and contract rabies.
Last on the tour is the bat cave. There’s no point in going to see this unless you’re going at sunset, when millions of bats flock from the cave and in union twist in the sky like a giant serpent. This was a mesmerising experience. It lasts for about 40 minutes from start to finish and about half way through we decided to drive and it was pretty wicked to see them moving at a distance in the same direction as our tuk tuk.
Separate to the tour with Kim we also took a cooking class. There are a few in Battambang – Smokin’ Pot and Nary’s are the two most well-known. Both are $10 for the class and eating the meal you’ve cooked at the end. With Nary’s Kitchen we cooked four meals. The class was great fun, although sometimes a little too basic and a lack of descriptive information. That said – these really were only minor points because the food was delicious!
Unless you’re in Siem Reap getting to Battambang is going to take you a while. I did this stop after Kampot but currently there’s no direct route meaning I had to go back to Phnom Penh (approx. 3 hours) and then from there get a six hour bus to Battambang. I took Capitol – they stopped three times for bladder breaks – my feeling was that it was slightly unnecessary. I’m not sure you can get there much quicker though and they are one of the cheapest ($6).
Overall Battambang has lots of things to see and do – including the circus, which we missed. The nightlife is pretty much all at Here Be Dragons from what we could gather.