Battambang province lies in the far northwest of Cambodia. It’s around a 4 hour bus ride from Siem Reap. This place is serene compared to the chaotic mash up of Siem Reap.
I tend to fit in smaller towns in between the bigger attractions to take it easy and soak in the local culture. Battambang offered alot more than I expected and I learned more about the Cambodian culture and lifestyle.
The town itself doesn’t have much to offer other than a market, local shops, and restaurants. A trip to the outer areas is a must to ride a bamboo train, learn how rice paper is made, and end the night by seeing millions of bats fly out of their lair to hunt for the night.
If you plan to visit I highly recommend hiring a local guide named Savet. He’s a 26 year old teacher turned tour guide and has lived in Battambang his whole life. His knowledge and articulation of the culture/lifestyle made for a memorable trip.
We started our trip in the north and rode a Bamboo train! The trains are simple platforms built with hmm… I think it’s Bamboo with an engine attached at the end. The track itself is a single rail that goes both ways. So what happens when trains from opposite directions meet? The rule is the train with the least amount of people have to get off and let the other one through before rebuilding it.
Once you reach the end you’ll be greeted by some very charming and aggressive children trying to sell you bracelets. Which I politely deflected and said no. One girl though offered us a tour of her small village.
She was the most polite and well spoken 9 year old I’ve met. She told us about the area and once in awhile will ask if we wanted bracelets but was never pushy. At the end I didn’t buy a bracelet but gave her a US dollar and she gave me the biggest hug. How could you not fall in love with this face? I shouldn’t peel onions while I write this :'(
Afterwards, Savet brought us to his village and educated us along the way about men and women’s roles and the gender inequality. He also explained about the customs for marriage in which the man has to give around $5000-10,000 to the woman’s family to plan for the wedding. He then brought us to his home where we were greeted by his aunt.
The whole area lives in poverty by Western standards. But poverty is relative in the eye of the beholder. Everyone we passed by had smiles and waved to us. Electricity was introduced just 7 years ago in this village. But the most important thing that Savet taught me was how his neighbours and the whole village is family. There’s no fences to separate the houses and they help each other in times of need. His house is surrounded by vegetables and fruits in a which they pick fresh for every meal. So in the end who is living the richer life?
After seeing all that stuff that made me ponder about life, we went on to see lighter things. How locals make a living making different specialty foods. This whole area felt like a blur as we stopped and went every 10 minutes to different shops. Some of them were sticky rice made in bamboos, rice paper, dried bananas, fish paste, and sewing scarves..
We hiked a bit to see a small cave and then to the top for a beautiful view of the whole province. The main attraction is the bat cave in which millions of bats come out to hunt at night. The show lasts around 25 minutes with a non stop stream of bats coming out.
There’s a few places here that do a cooking class and Nary’s kitchen is one of the most popular. For $10 USD they choose 4 dishes and include a cookbook for you.
The first stop is a tour of the local food market with hundreds of different vendors. This place isn’t for the faint of heart. They kill live animals right in front of you and skin/scale them. It’s part of their culture as there’s no such thing as a fridge for them. Everything is either sold for the day or dried
The cutting and cooking part was simplified since we had a few kids in our group. It was still informative and he explained how each spice/herb is used in Cambodian dishes.
I had a mix of local and western food here. The best tasting dish was actually the fish amok we made in our cooking class.
Seeing the villages and the friendly people in Battambang really hit me hard. It sounds cliche but it really did remind me to be grateful for everything I have. The villagers are happy with their lives even when it’s a daily struggle to put food on the table for their family. Battambang has taken a part of me, and I hope to come back one day to see the smiling faces.
Phom Penh for a few days and then off to Vietnam!