Battambang is still sadly overlooked in favour of its brothers, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, and despite its rich culture and history. This is a massive shame. Once you arrive in the city, you’ll realise it has a very authentic Cambodian vibe alongside some historical French flavours.
Travellers soak up the atmosphere, see the iconic Bamboo Train, and enjoy live performances from the world-famous Battambang Circus (Phare Ponleu Selpak). We’ll cover these experiences (along with many others!) in more detail below.
History is everywhere in Battambang
The city, situated in the northwestern Battambang Province, was founded in the 11th century during the Khmer Empire. During this time, the region enjoyed the reputation of being the largest producer of rice in the country.
In the early 1900s, Battambang was ruled by the French — this being the French Indochina era — and not granted autonomy until the 1950s.
When visiting Battambang, you can really see history all around you. Architectural reminders of the Khmer and French Indochina era can’t go unnoticed in most areas of Battambang. The amazing French colonial buildings still stand tall all over the city and are, in fact, acknowledged as the most well-preserved in all of Cambodia.
The eastern bank of the Sangkor River, which flows peacefully through the entire city, is where some of the finest examples of architecture are.
A balance of calm and liveliness
The city itself isn’t hectic like Phnom Penh, but it’s certainly a far cry from the quieter corners of Kampot and Kep in the south.
The sense of calm is actually quite surprising when you consider Battambang is the fourth most populated city in Cambodia behind Sihanoukville, Takeo, and, of course, the capital Phnom Penh.
In fact, there’s a nice balance here. It’s a city with a small-town feel. There’s enough going on to be lively and engaging, but not enough to be overwhelming and in-your-face.
You’ll still notice the streets are alive with the Khmer spirit without all the annoying and frankly unnecessary noise. The wide range of bars and restaurants lights up the city. The aromas of traditional Khmer food, alongside delicious French and Western cuisine, highlight but a small pocket of Battambang’s overall cultural diversity.
Where to stay in Battambang
Location #1: The city centre is where the city’s soul lives
If you want to be in the heart of Battambang’s nightlife, we recommend its city centre on the west side of the Sangkor River. There, you’ll find a large selection of pubs, bars, and restaurants inside the centre’s “Walking District” — mainly along the aptly named Pub Street.
You’ll also discover Battambang’s Central Market, as well as its Night Market, which is very close by. They can both be found along Street One right next to the river bank. The Central Market isn’t difficult to spot. It’s a bright yellow Art Deco structure with a 26-metre dome in the middle — the only one of its kind in the city.
Inside, you’ll uncover a maze of narrow passageways lined with merchants selling everything from clothing, jewellery, gold, electronics, and souvenirs. It’s really quite an experience.
A short 10-minute drive from the centre, you’ll find the famous Battambang Circus, which is located north next to the Phum Kabkor Thmey district. However, accommodation is very limited here, and that’s why we recommend staying in the city centre and travelling to and from this district via tuk-tuk, which costs only about $2.
You’ll find budget-friendly hostels and guesthouses for as little as $5 per night in a dormitory, while private rooms already start at $10 per night. If you want more luxury, you’ll also have plenty of options in the range of $30-$50.
Location #2: The west side of the river offers a zen-like setting
Outside of the city centre, things quieten down somewhat. The west side of the river (across the Sor Kheng Bridge) is less built up and you won’t find a central nightlife district. Instead, you’ll discover some fairly upmarket hotels, as well as a few quirky Asian and Western restaurants sporadically situated alongside the river bank and further inland.
What draws people to the west side of the river is its concentration of temples and pagodas, which includes Wat Bo Knong to the north, Wat Bovil in the middle, and Wat Kandal just below it.
If you’re looking to stay on the west side of the river, prices are slightly higher compared to the city centre where you’ll find a higher number of budget options. Accommodation on the west side of the river starts at roughly $15 per night and go upwards of $50-$60 per night.
TIP: If you’re looking for a budget hostel in this area, one of the only ones in the area is Here Be Dragons near the southern Sangke Pagoda. Expect to pay only $4-$5 for a bed in a 6-person dormitory.
How to get around in Battambang
In Battambang, tuk-tuks are everywhere. They’re perfect for taking you around the city or further out to the main sightseeing attractions.
If you want to hire a tuk-tuk, there are two ways to find one. You can go the traditional route and simply hail one down, which is the most common way of doing things. Or you can download the GrabTukTuk app and hire one on that. This is particularly useful if you have to be somewhere at a certain time and don’t want the hassle of hailing one down/haggling for a good price.
GrabTukTuk prices are very reasonable and often cheaper when hailing one on the street. The base fare is $0.50 with a minimum fare of roughly $0.75 — per kilometre rate is $0.20. For example, a 2.5 km ride from the city centre to the Battambang Circus will cost $1 including the base fare. Likewise, a longer 5.7 km journey from the city centre southwards to The Bamboo Train will cost just over $2.
Book a tuk-tuk with a driver and tour guide to see Battambang up close
An easy way to explore all the hotspots in Battambang is by hiring a tuk-tuk with a driver who shows you around for a half or full day.
The driver will take you to all the sightseeing hotspots in and around Battambang for only $10-$15 for half a day, or $20-$25 for a full day of exploring. To book a tuk-tuk with a driver, we recommend asking at your accommodation because they often have a good network of experienced guides.
PRO TIP: Be careful of motorcycle thieves. They typically target tuk-tuks, especially ones where a passenger’s bags are exposed and unprotected. Always keep your bags (and any other belongings) close to your body.
For the more adventurous travellers amongst you, there’s also the option to take the ferry over Tonle Sap lake. However, be aware that this might not be as comfortable as you think. The ride takes approximately 8 hours and the ferries aren’t fitted with 5-star luxuries. They’re very basic and quite compact.
If you’re instead travelling from Sihanoukville to Battambang, some more careful planning is required.
When you look up Battambang on the map, it initially looks like a very convenient destination to add to your Cambodia trip — this is especially true if you’re looking to complete a loop around the country.
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy!
The thick jungle to the north of Sihanoukville doesn’t provide you with a useful road network, which means there’s no direct connection between the two cities.
The easiest way to reach Battambang from the south is to travel from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap via the capital Phnom Penh. From Siem Reap, you can take any of the aforementioned taxi, bus, or ferry rides over to Battambang — we recommend taking the bus because it’s the cheapest option and you’ll catch a glimpse of rural Cambodia along the way.
The city of Battambang is fairly spread out, however, you'll find the majority of accommodations are located centrally, near the Sangkae River.
The downtown area is less than 5km from the airport so taking public transportation or hopping in a taxi will be an easy & quick trip to your hotel. The bus terminal is located in the downtown area and will likely be within walking distance to your hotel, or just a short taxi ride away.
If you're hoping to visit the circus while here, it's located just a few kilometers from the airport in the opposite direction of downtown. You can still easily stay in the downtown area and grab a taxi for just a couple of bucks.
When looking for a great place to stay in Battambang, we recommend the accommodations below.
Pomme Hostel, Bar & Restaurant is located centrally in the heart of Battambang. Just 200 m from Psar Nat, Riverside Night Market, and Battambang Museum, it's a great place to stay to see the local sights.
While breakfast is not included with your stay, it's just an extra $2 for a full English breakfast or 'build-your-own' breakfast. The restaurant offers an array of local, Asian, and international meals for lunch and dinner as well. The hotel staff, who are known to be extremely welcoming and friendly, can also arrange local tours for you.
Located amongst the rice fields and surrounded by beauty, this homestay is 15km from the city center of Battambang.
They offer a stunning garden, free bicycle rentals, and a relaxing terrace to soak in the sights. The owners and staff will treat you like family, great food, and a private bamboo bungalow, this is the perfect place to stay. Also, a delicious vegetarian breakfast is included with your stay.
If you're looking for a little more luxury without breaking the bank, then Sangker Villa is definitely the place to stay.
This centrally located villa offers a beautiful outdoor swimming pool, and each room has air-conditioning, flat-screen TVs with cable channels, a minibar, and en suite bathrooms with toiletries, they even offer hot showers!
The on-site French restaurant and bar is the perfect place to cool down after walking around town and enjoy the river views, just a 200 m walk away.