Things to do in Battambang with kids + the many benefits of supporting local people

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Krong Battambang is Cambodia’s second largest city; second only to the capital Phnom Penh, which makes it larger than the better-known Siem Reap. After our three weeks responsibly exploring Siem Reap, we took the bus to Battambang to stay in a family-run guesthouse.

Battambang has a very different feel to Siem Reap: I think because it’s not frequented nearly as much by tourists, it has more of a small town vibe. Angkor Wat is the drawcard for Siem Reap, but even though Battambang doesn’t have a major attraction like that, it still has plenty of things to do for kids and adults alike. It’s also much more authentic and laid back, which we found refreshing.

Our hotel in Battambang and our tuk tuk driver, and why connecting with local people is the best part of travel

We stayed at The Blue Guest House which was simple and clean, and the owners were always present and helpful. The only specifically eco-friendly hotel in the region was far too expensive for us, so we chose to support this family business and we were very happy staying there. It’s always best to support local businesses with your travel income, and seeking locally-owned hotels and guesthouses is a great way to ensure your tourist money stays in the community.

And the best thing about our stay was meeting Mr Kun, who was a tuk tuk driver offering visitors his own Battambang tours. He was stationed outside the guesthouse, and though we hadn’t planned on taking any tours, after chatting to Mr Kun we could tell he was very genuine and knowledgable about his town. We also felt that trusting him would give us more insights into Battambang than we would’ve otherwise had, and liked the fact that we could help support his family, too.

With Mr Kun and his tuk tuk on our last day in Battambang.

With Mr Kun and his tuk tuk on our last day in Battambang.

It was a great decision and we all loved getting to know this kind and gentle man. After a few days together he trusted us enough to speak a little about his childhood in the time of the Khmer Rouge and the current politics of his country, which was a privilege for us to hear about.

This is what travel’s all about to me: real conversations with people from other cultures, supporting small local businesses, trusting, and exploring with a local guide. Mr Kun made his town come alive and remain memorable for us. Anthony and I now understand more about Cambodia’s history and what it was like for someone we know there, which makes it very real.

And as I’ve found in much of our travels, making new friends is the most memorable part. We can see pictures of amazing places from anywhere, and we can even explore the world’s wonders without really connecting with another human being. But what I recall the most are the people, the conversations, the laughs or tears or debates. They’re definitely the most soul-fulfilling parts of travel.

Meeting performers from the Phare circus Battambang, one of the top things to do in Cambodia.

Meeting performers from the Phare circus Battambang after their show (see more below).

What to do in Battambang Cambodia

Mr Kun took us to some of the well-known attractions in Battambang province and to some of the lesser-known ones. We didn’t go to the Killing Caves of Phnom Sampeou or Wat Somrong Knong: a temple that was used as a prison by the Khmer Rouge and has a monument to the adjacent Killing Fields. We felt that our children were too young for those experiences.

We also wouldn’t support the crocodile farm in Battambang because it’s not an ethical animal attraction, though I don’t think Mr Kun mentioned taking us there anyway. And we didn’t worry about Mrs Bun Roeung’s Ancient House; though it sounds interesting to me our kids were not keen! Similarly, we didn’t go to the Battambang Provincial Museum or any of the numerous art galleries. When our children are older I look forward to doing more of those sorts of things!

Luckily for us there were plenty of other attractions in Battambang for us to enjoy and learn from:

Famous attractions

The Bamboo Train Battambang

On the new track of the Bamboo Train Cambodia.

All aboard the Bamboo Train! About to leave on the newly opened track.

Perhaps the most famous thing to do in Battambang is to ride the bamboo train (“norry” in Khmer): an improvised rail vehicle that uses lorries to take passengers for a ride. It’s about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) out of the city now, and had just reopened on a new track when we visited.

Passing a stilted house on the Bamboo Train Cambodia.

Passing a stilted house on the Bamboo Train.

The ride takes over an hour and travels four kilometers (2.5 miles) each way, with a break in between while the operators manually change the direction of the lorries. There were many Khmer tourists as well as international visitors on the ride with us, and we enjoyed chatting to some local people: this time a young Cambodian family visiting from Siem Reap.

Bamboo train staff connecting the lorries.

The lorries are manually connected for each direction of the trip.

Dante and Allegra loved the ride even though it didn’t go super fast: just being in an open air was an exciting experience! Some people say that the old track was more authentic and maybe it was, but I still highly recommend this activity as a fun outing for families. And now it’s next door to the famous temple Wat Banan (see below), it makes a great day tour to combine both attractions.

Responsible travel tip:

Be sure to take your own water bottles to avoid buying plastic ones. You’re out in the heat for quite awhile and will need a drink.

Battambang Bat Cave

We stopped by the main bat cave at Phnom Sampov to watch the nightly spectacle one evening. Literally millions of bats were emerging to go hunting: it takes several hours for them all to come out!

Locals formed the Phnom Sampov Bat Cave Community to protect the bats in recent years, after seeing their numbers reduce dramatically. In doing so they’ve preserved the largest colony of bats in Battambang, as well as a local tourist attraction and small businesses that collect the guano (bat droppings) for sale to local farmers. Each evening tables and chairs are set up at the viewing area and local vendors are available to buy snacks and drinks from.

Responsible travel tip:

Viewing the bats is free, so supporting the local community by purchasing some food to enjoy while you watch them is a lovely way to give back.

If you don’t have a relationship with a tuktuk driver, responsible tourism company Backstreet Academy has a Sunset and Bat Caves Tour that also includes a hike up to the top of Sampov mountain to watch the sun setting, and a visit to a local temple. All of Backstreet’s tours connect you to local guides.

Phnom Banan / Wat Banan

This amazing temple (Wat Banan) was built in the 11th century on top of a huge hill (Phnom Banan). It’s a stunning setting and quite a climb to reach the top (over 350 steps!) and it’s well worth the effort in my opinion. The temple isn’t as well-preserved as many at Angkor Wat but it’s in better shape than others in the Battambang area, and is far less crowded than Angkor even on a slow day.

It’s also very picturesque and affords amazing views over the whole region. I was amazed just to think about how it would have been built so high up, so long ago, and definitely recommend Wat Banan for your Battambang tour.

Halfway up the stairs to Wat Banan.

At the halfway point of the stairs!

Looking up to see the rest of the stairs up Phnom Banan.

The rest of the climb ahead!

Some of the structures of Wat Banan.

Some of the structures of Wat Banan.

Allegra exploring around the temple complex.

Allegra exploring around the temple complex.

The peaceful setting included wonderful view of the surrounding hills.

The peaceful setting included wonderful view of the surrounding hills.

At the top we were once again fortunate to meet some lovely people: this time a group of Monks and some staff who were travelling through Battambang. They were keen to chat to us about where we were from and our travels, and they pointed out to me where Angelina Jolie’s film adaptation of the book First The Killed my Father by Loung Ung was filmed.

I felt awkward because Allegra and I had worn singlets that day, and covering female’s shoulders is requested at Buddhist temples. I am very conscious of that and usually do wear sleeves, but hadn’t realised that we were going to a temple that particular day. Mr Kun had spoken with my husband about what we’d be doing, and all I heard was the bamboo train and seeing the bats at sunset (more about them below). Still, I should’ve clarified for myself or just worn the respectful attire anyway.

The monks we chatted to were kind enough not to mention it and still spoke to me anyway, but I knew it wasn’t right.

Chatting to the monks was lovely even though I wasn't dressed respectfully.

We had a nice chat even though I wasn’t dressed respectfully, and I greatly appreciate them still treating me like as anyone else. I felt awful and have certainly learnt my lesson.

Responsible travel tips:

Always be clear about what is respectful clothing (and expected behaviour) before you go out exploring somewhere new. If you’re unsure, err on the side of caution and cover up, which is what I always do now.

Also at historic sites like this, it’s important to stick to the tracks and obey warning signs for your safety. And never take a small souvenir from them, no matter how insignificant it seems.

The Phare Circus / Battambang Circus

Phare Ponleu Selpak is one of Battambang’s great success stories. It’s a non-profit arts school which empowers over 1000 students every year with art therapy, recreational classes and vocational training available to children and youth of all backgrounds.

You can support their work in various ways, including donating money or taking a guided tour of the campus, but the most fun way to support Phare is to attend one of their outstanding circus performances. It’s one of the best things to see in Cambodia! Students from their traditional dance programs open the show, students from their music program provide the energetic beats, and students from their performing arts program provide a funny and daring acrobatics show that’s truly world-class.

If you’re travelling with older kids or only adults, you might be interested to try a half or full-day workshop at Phare, too. You can choose one or more classes including art, traditional or modern dance or music, or circus skills.

Fire twirling at the Phare circus Cambodia.

The show included many acts, and the fire twirling was amazing.

Responsible travel tip:

This is a great activity to engage with that provides a memorable experience AND gives back in a meaningful way. It’s also a lot of fun for all ages to enjoy! And the performers were generous with their time afterwards when we attended, so stick around if you’d like to meet them too.

Smaller attractions and locally-run experiences

These Battambang attractions have been designed by local people and they support locals directly. They’re also great opportunities to learn more about rural Cambodian life.

Ox cart ride

Mr Kun took us for an ox-cart ride one day. I was ambivalent about this as I don’t support animal rides, so when the rest of my family said they wanted to do it, I thought I’d just walk along beside them or sit it out completely.

Then I listened and started to understand that this little tourist attraction was a way for an elderly farmer who couldn’t work the fields any more to continue earning money. I put down my rigid moral code and thought I should at least see what was involved.

One of the unique Battambang things to do: taking an ox-cart ride

On the ox-cart in Battambang.

The oxen were healthy and obviously used to pulling a cart along the uneven rice fields. The farmer was lovely and even though he couldn’t speak English, it was also obvious that he enjoyed being able to take visitors around his beautiful farm.

Again it felt good to support a local family by supporting this small business. And really noticing the countryside and the beauty of a rice farm was a very peaceful experience.

The sun starting to set over the rice paddy was very beautiful.

The sun starting to set over the rice paddy was beautiful.

I still felt conflicted as I always want to demonstrate to my children that it’s ok not to support something even if others are doing it or it’s normal in another culture: that doesn’t mean we have to agree or participate. But in this case I took their lead and trusted that it would be ok. And it was.

After the ride I felt good about it, and now see that sometimes there isn’t a black or white answer. The oxen were treated well, and beyond that, I don’t have a place to say what they should or shouldn’t be doing.

The lovely farmer and Mr Kun after our ride was finished.

The lovely farmer and Mr Kun after our ride was finished.

Travel tip:

The cart just had enough room for the four of us to fit for the ride. It goes slowly enough for you to keep up walking beside it if that’s necessary or your preference.

Fresh rice noodles: seeing them being made traditionally (and sampling some!)

After the ox cart ride Mr Kun took us to meet some ladies who make rice noodles from freshly harvested rice. Their whole set up is outdoors and they use traditional equipment, so it was amazing to see how it’s done. They sell the noodles at a local market and now also show tourists how they’re made.

One of the ladies pressing rice noodles over the fire.

One of the ladies pressing rice noodles over the fire.

The small visitor price includes a bowl of their fresh noodles with a choice of dressings, and they were absolutely delicious. I could really tell the difference in their freshness: they tasted nothing like noodles I’ve cooked from a packet!

Dante and Allegra loved this visit, and played well with some of the children there. They were each given a horse made of a sugarcane and they all rode around together for quite some time. Allegra didn’t want to leave, she really felt at home and loved the chance to play in the open with some new friends. It was a lovely, relaxed and welcoming experience, and a great example of why we choose worldschooling and how easily children connect to one another.

Dante riding his sugarcane horse.

Dante also loved the (zero waste!) horse to play with!

Battambang bike tour or walking tour

For zero emissions touring, or for going at a slower pace and getting more exercise, there are a couple of responsible companies to choose from:

  • The award-winning Soksabike has bicycles available for all ages, including tag-a-longs (which we loved using together to explore around Uluru) and infant seats. They offer several half and full day tours to learn about local livelihoods or customs and culture, or a Battambang countryside tour, all with local guides and a strong focus on responsible tourism.
  • Free Cycling Tour offers a walking tour of Battambang city as well as interactive cycling tours to learn about local industries and sample products. Their guides are all university students who are supported by the organisation, as well as the local families they visit.

More about Battambang tourism and travel

Battambang restaurants and cafes

There are so many great dining options in Battambang! Even though I’m vegan and my kids can be a little fussy, we had no problems finding amazing food. We like to support social enterprises and locally-owned eateries as a priority.

Social enterprises

Cafe Eden is open all day and serves many Western meals as well as some Khmer and other Asian dishes. It also has a store onsite selling products made by women, and the whole concept of Eden is to provide empowerment and employment for local people.

We enjoyed a hearty breakfast there and our little Aussies were delighted to get toast with vegemite!

The boutique at Cafe Eden, Battambang.

The boutique at Cafe Eden, Battambang.

  • Jaan Bai is widely regarded as the best restaurant in Battambang. It’s run by the Cambodian Children’s Trust and provides employment for Cambodian youth. They offer outstanding meals, desserts, cocktails and coffee.
  • Kinyei Cafe serves fair trade drinks in partnership with Feel Good Coffee, who source their beans from Cambodia, Thailand and Laos. They also have a small menu and operate with a strong social mission to help Cambodian youth and the wider community.
  • The Lonely Tree Cafe is social enterprise set up by the Apostolic Prefecture of Battambang, with the help of Spanish NGO S.A.U.C.E and Mission Australia. They also have an on-site store selling crafts made by people with disabilities, and they serve coffee, desserts, and primarily Mediterranean-inspired lunches and dinners.

Other kid-friendly and vegan-friendly restaurants in Battambang

La Casa has a reputation for the best pizza in Battambang, and my family weren’t complaining! I was very pleased to be able to get a raw pasta dish which was delicious.

My raw zucchini noodles at La Casa, Battambang.

My raw zucchini noodles at La Casa, Battambang.

For vegan pizza and a fully vegan menu, the new Bonlai til I Die is said to be amazing. My friend Lola at Miss Filatelista says they serve the best vegan pizzas she’s ever had!

Battambang Cafe serve strong moka coffee (hot or iced), smoothies, juices and waffles. They can be gluten and dairy free too! It’s a funky spot and lovely to relax and have a drink and dessert all day.

Allegra was excited to get waffles and ice-cream!

Allegra was excited to get waffles and ice-cream!

Places to get authentic Khmer food

Unfortunately, I can’t find a picture of my favourite Khmer restaurant, and as many of the smaller businesses don’t have websites I can’t find it online either. You can ask for recommendations, or do what we did and trust your instincts as you wander the town or markets! We didn’t try the following but they get great reviews and are locally-owned:

  • Khmer Delight Restaurant and Bar serves Cambodian favourites and other Asian dishes for lunch and dinner.
  • Smokin’ Pot (AKA Smoking Pot Battambang) is popular street stall opposite the Phsar Nat night market (AKA Psar Nath market). It’s owned and run by Cambodian chef Vannak Phou, who also runs Khmer cooking classes from his home.

Getting to Battambang

We caught the bus from Siem Reap to Battambang, which takes 3-4 hours. The distance from Siem Reap to Battambang directly is only 77kms (48 miles), but as there’s no direct road, the route passes through the town of Sisophon and is 165kms (102 miles) long.

As with all buses we took in Southeast Asia, it was spacious and comfortable. You can also hire a taxi or take a boat to Battambang from Siem Reap, which are more expensive options.

On the bus Siem Reap to Battambang.

On the bus from Siem Reap to Battambang.

We also caught a bus from Battambang to Phnom Penh, our final destination in Cambodia. This trip is longer, over 6 hours and almost 300 kms (186 miles). You could also hire a taxi for this trip.

Battambang weather and the best time to visit

The peak season for travel anywhere in Cambodia is November — January, as it’s relatively cool and the start of the dry season. In December the average temperature is 24.8°C or 76.64°F. The dry months continue into April, which is the hottest month of the year with an average temperature of 29.6°C, or 85.28°F. It doesn’t sound like a huge difference, but in a tropical climate, a few degrees either way is definitely felt!

We visited Battambang in January and the weather was great for us. We were acclimatised to the tropics by then though, having spent two months in Malaysia and a month in Thailand already!

Read more about our experiences in Southeast Asia:

We didn’t have a choice but to be in Battambang over the peak season, but if you do, I recommend going in November or February/March instead. It won’t be so busy but you’ll still have the benefit of cooler temperatures and not too much rain.

Or, be adventurous and travel in the rainy season! May — November is the wet season and the wettest months are September and October. Travel is still possible at this time and you will have the benefit of few other tourists around and lush, green landscapes to enjoy. You may get some discounts on accommodation and activities, too.

A small village we passed on the outskirts of Battambang.

A small village we passed on the outskirts of Battambang.

Final thoughts

We really enjoyed our five nights in Battambang, and as you can see, our visit was especially great because we met so many people and made new connections. I really encourage you to seek locally-owned and operated accommodation and tours as you travel: it’s best for them for your money to stay in their community, and it’s also great for you, too!

If you’re heading to Battambang, make sure to stay at least a couple of nights to be able to enjoy it’s many wonders without rushing. Unfortunately Mr Kun doesn’t work at the Blue Guesthouse any more, but I’m sure you’ll be able to find another lovely tuktuk driver if you’re seeking one.

And we’d love to hear about your experiences in Battambang or connecting with local people! Leave them in the comments below for everyone to benefit from.

Thanks for reading, and please share if you found this guide helpful!

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Battambang has plenty of things to do, for all ages to enjoy! We loved our time there and got to experience a range of activities and amazing food. This post outlines well-known tourist attractions and lesser-known ones too, as well as responsible travel tips, transport and weather information. #battambang #cambodia #responsibletravel #responsibletourism #sustainabletourism #supportlocal

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