The Battambang province of Cambodia lies in the far north-west of the country, with a capital city going by the same name. The region has an interesting history. Originally, during the Angkor period, the area was split in to many territories, namely Amogha Boreak and Bhima Boreak. Throughout this period, the region prospered due to the hospitable environment for growing fruit, vegetables, and other produce. In the 15th century however, when the Siamese army began to invade the regions to the northwest, the provinces’ locals were driven out of their homes, and land was confiscated. Three centuries later, until the 20th century, Battambang was under the rule of the Siamese. At the start of the 1900’s however, descendants of the people who once occupied the region demanded that land, which had been previously confiscated, should be returned to the rightful owners. These claims were based on the French Siamese Treaty of 1907. Indeed, the land was returned, and in the same year, the entire province was split in to three separate provinces, namely Battambang, Siem Reap, and Serei Sophorn. The areas then underwent a number of further alterations, both in geographical and textual terms, until the 1940’s. At this time, the province of Battambang was made up of 7 separate districts. In the following 40 years, the province underwent an excruciating ordeal of killings, torture, and other human rights abuses. This was conducted under the administration of Poi Pet. This period is now referred to as the period of the Killing Fields.
Finally in 1979, genocide was halted in the region, and the historic first election in the area was held in 1993. Between this period, and the current time, further changes were made to the districts which comprised Battambang. As it stands today, the province has 13 districts”: Banan, Thma Koul, Bat Dambang, Bavel, Ek Phnom, Moung Ruessei, Rotanak Mondol, Sangkae, Samlout, Sampov Loun, Phnum Proek, Kamrieng, and Koas Krala. The entire Battambang province spans over 11,500 square kilometers, and has a population of approximately 180,000 people.
Fresh Fruit and Food, selling along the road
The area is known locally and internationally as the “Rice Bowl” of Cambodia. This is because the economy of Battambang is extremely efficient in the production of rice, and additionally because of the comparative advantage and local endowments in the region. An estimated 2,400 square kilometers of land is used in rice production, with the figure growing consistently each year. This abundance of land results in over 500,000 tonnes of rice being produced annually, with around 300,000 of that being traded locally and internationally. Other successful industries include sweet potatoes, cassava, normal and red corn, a chillies. Indeed, industrial crops took up approximately 500 square kilometers of land – a far cry from the rice production fields, but nevertheless a significant proportion. Inflation in the area is a modest 1.6 percent in 2002, with an unemployment rate of just 2.6%. This is unsurprising given the amount of produce required to be harvested, and the variations of growing seasons leading to consistent, year long employment.
Cow cart is popular for local resident to transport or travel
As far as travel in and out of the province is concerned, a number of options are available. Roading is in place from Battambang to neighboring provinces, however the infrastructure lacks modern development, and can therefore take some time to travel in some parts. Movement by road will require the use of your own vehicle, or a shared taxi – which can be an excellent idea if you are on a budget. During the rainy season, which is typically in effect from June to October, an interesting method of travel is speed boat. The boat leaves from Siem Reap, and arrives a number of hours later in Battambang. Additionally, the cost is very reasonable, at around $15 USD. A service also runs from Phnom Penh, another neighboring province, and takes the best part of half a day. Prices for this service are around $20 USD. For those who wish to save their money and just want to enjoy the great and wild view should consider the train service between Phnom Penh and Battambang, taking 13 or so hours.
Temple in Battambang
Once you arrive in the province, there are a number of attractions for tourists to see. The area is home to some spectacular scenery, which makes walking, tramping, and sightseeing a must for any visitor. Numerous historic ruins are open to the public, including Wat Ek Phnom, which was constructed during the Bayon period. The temple and ruins lie 10 kilometers north of the Cobra River, and are at the bottom of a hill, hence only limited exercise is required to reach them. For a more enduring experience, Phnom Banan is a mountaintop temple built in the Angkor period. The temple is still in relatively good condition, however pillaging and looting was once rife in the area, and the effects of this are noticeable. Nevertheless, this is an excellent sight to see, and any tourists to the area should be sure to check out at least a few of the many temples, as they certainly build a cultural and historical awareness. Other attractions worth a note are the Phnom Sampeou Mountain, the Kamping Puoy Reservoir – an incredible engineering project, Wat Pee-Pahd – an important symbol of Buddihsm in Battambang, and the Gold Buddah Hill. As you can see, a tourist will not be lost for things to do in the province.
Finally, the climate is unlikely to provide any major impact on your activities. Any tourist should be sure of their travel dates, and know the corresponding season in which they will be visiting. As mentioned previously, the rainy season is from June to October, the cool season takes place between November and February, and the hot season runs from March to May.
As with any area in Cambodia, but in particular relation to Battambang due to the popularity of bush and mountain walks, you should never venture off the set trail, as land mines are still actives in some areas. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Banan Temple in Battambang
Banan Temple How to go: Location: Description: Adapts the architecture of mid 11th century and the end of 12th century the temple was first built by king, Ut Tak Yea Tit Tya Varman II (1050-1066) and then was finally built by the king, Jarvarman VII (1181-1219). The temple is located on the top of approximate 400-meter heighten mountain at Kon Tey 2 commune, Ba Nan District in 25-kilometer distance from the provincial town by the provincial Road No 155 parallel to Sang Ke River. At the mountain’s valley, there are Ku Teuk and two main natural wells, namely: Bit Meas and Chhung or Chhung Achey.
Banteay Sat in Battambang
Banteay Sat How to go: 105 km (2h) From Provincial Town. Location: Description: Historical Sites and Buildings, Location: Koh Village, Kaoh Chiveang Commune, Aek Phnom District.
Barsat Temple in Battambang
Barsaet Temple How to go: Location: Description: Was built during the reign of King, Soriyak Varman I (1002-1050) and located on a hill at Ba Set village, Ta Pun commune in 15-kilometer distance from the provincial town. Ba Set temple adapts the architecture of 11th century and built in 1036 and 1042. Next to the temple, there is 20 meters by12 meter and 10 meter depth pond. The pond is never dried, though in the dry season. In rainy season, the water level is higher than usual.
Gold Buddha Hill
This one is for your journey to Sisophan if you are heading that way (60 km or so from Battambang ). It’s easy to spot from the road. See the Sisophan section for more details.
Kamping Puoy Reservoir
This gigantic civil-engineering project was central to the Khmer Rouge’s plan to irrigate the countryside around Battambang. Tragically, the construction of the Kamping Puoy Reservoir resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of people. Unlike the victims of S21 and Choeung Ek most of the deaths on the Kamping Puoy project were caused by malnutrition, disease, overwork or mistreatment. The deaths were in short, preventable. A gripping, visceral and painfully honest account of life in Battambang under the Khmer Rouge was written by Haing S. Ngor, the Cambodian doctor, actor and community worker who won an oscar for the film The Killing Fields. His book Survival in Cambodia’s Killing Fields is perhaps the most eloquent account of day-to-day life during the Pol Pot period. It is laced with insights into the Khmer psyche and is ultimately a heartbreaking read. The Kamping Puoy Reservoir itself runs between two hills: Phnom Kol (or Phnom Ta Ngel) and Phnom Kamping Puoy Mountain. It is now a popular picnic site for residents of Pailin and Battambang because of its fresh air. Lotus flowers grow in the water and nearby you can buy lotus seeds to eat (they are delicious and taste a bit like sweet, uncooked peas). Takream Commune in Banan District is the nearest settlement.
This Angkor-era mountaintop temple is definitely worth a look. At the top are beautiful views of the winding Sangker River set amidst sugar palm trees, rice fields and small villages. To the south you will see a mountain range that features a crocodile shaped mountain.
The temple itself is beautiful looking from the ground as well as the top. The structures are pretty much intact, but unfortunately like so many Khmer ruins, they have fallen victim to massive looting. Still, there are some interesting works to see. There are five temple structures, like Angkor, with the middle being the largest. (Use caution around the entrance to the center structure-there is a large hanging block-a headache-in-waiting for some poor soul). As with Preah Vihear Temple (close to the Thai border in the province of the same name), there are a couple of big guns on the mountaintop next to the ruins. The guns are still pointing down at the surrounding area as they were during the more recent years of the government-Khmer Rouge skirmishes.
It’s part of the sad irony of Cambodia that a place built for worship, harmony and tranquility was utilized as a place for making war. Looking down the hillside to the southwest you can see more of the ruins. As always, if you go looking around, STAY ON THE WORN PATHWAYS AND TRAILS- there may still be undiscovered landmines.
Phnom Kdoung How to go: 14 km (1h) From Provincial Town. Location: Description: Nature wildlife and Preserves, Location: Kdong Village, Phnom Sampov Commune. Banann District.
Phnom Sampeou Mountain
Definitely worth a visit, it’s about 15 km outside of Battambang city on the way to Pailin (Rt. 10). Since it’s closer to Battambang than Pailin, we’ll include it in this section, as it’s a trip that a lot of locals take from here. However, if you are going to Pailin just save it for a stop on the way. It’s easy to do if you have your own motorcycle; if not you can negotiate a bit higher price and have the share taxi stop there an extra 100 baht should do it, but don’t pay until you get to Pailin. Phnom Sampeu features an Angkor-era Baray-style pool; cave shrines with skulls and bones of Khmer Rouge victims and about seven hundred steps leading up to the main temple area, with its dynamite views. The mountaintop temple was built in 1964 and is a mix of old and new styles. As you approach the top, take the dirt path that you will see forking off to the right. It leads to another hilltop temple area about 400 meters away. In the back of that, away from the view side, is a stairway leading down to a cave. Inside are some of the skulls and bones from this area’s killing fields. Locals have brought them up here and set up a couple of shrines in caves for the spirits of the victims in the hope that they can finally rest in peace. It’s another sobering place in Cambodia. A bit further down is a cave with some small stalagmites and stalactites. Continuing the cave circuit, there is another cave area off from these areas that has a reclining Buddha and more skulls and bones nearby. It’s not a bad idea to bring a flashlight, although ladies working the temple have candles for a small donation. The stairway and the areas on the top are packed with Cambodians on holidays as they make the pilgrimage with family and friends to see this mix of the old, new and a part of the tragedy of the Khmer Rouge era. Also easy to get to (I don’t mean to imply that the road is good), just head out of Battambang on the road to Pailin about 15 km. As you approach, you’ll see the mountain and temple at the top and think that you are going to run right into it. The town next to the mountain has the same name. As you get into town you go by a school and small stands until you see a sign in Khmer and English (amazing) on the left for Phnom Sampeu. Turn left here and as you go toward the stairs you will note some bits of ruins on the left. Figure around 160 baht for the round trip moto-taxi.
Phnom Trong Morn Trong Tea
Pich Chenda How to go: 44 km (2h) From Provincial Town. Location: Description: Nature wildlife and Preserves, Location: Treng Commune, Rattanakmundul District.
Characterizes as three separated stupas made of brick, located on a hill having 30-meter length and 20-meter width, in Snung pagoda’s area, Snung commune, Ba Nan District in 22-kilometer distance from the provincail town. According to the style at the gate, the temple is similar to other temples in 12th century. Behind the temple, there is another new constructing temple.
River Sightseeing & Boat Rentals
Just north of the Cobra Bridge, on the west bank, you will see a lot of boats hugging he riverbank. You can hire a non-motorized small wooden boat for around 4,000 riel, and a motorized boat (if available) for around US$ 5 an hour. It’s a pleasant way to wee the river life around Battambang town. There is also a boat you can take to Siem Reap for a smooth alternative to the lousy highway (see Coming and Going section).
Is the natural resort, which has been popular since before the civil war time. Sek Sak stretches along the river bank full of plant, trees and bamboo-green nature in 500-meter length. Regarding to Sek Sak, tourists can also visit other attractive sites like Po Pus Pich Chen Da Dong Tong and Sa Ang speak, the pre-history site in five-kilometer to six-kilometer distance from each other. Sek Sak located in Treng commune, Rotanak Mondul District in 50-kilometer distance from the provincial town of Batambang along the National Road No 57, the former National Road No 10.
Wat Ek Phnom
Situated about 10 km north of the Cobra Bridge are the ruins of Ek Phnom. It was built during the Bayon period and unfortunately is much worse for the wear than Phnom Banan.It’s an interesting place, however, because there is a freshly constructed working temple right in front of the ruins. This temple, along with the temple ruins, is the center of holiday festivities for the people of the nearby village. They dress up in their Sunday best and have a celebration between the old and the new temples and climb all around the ruins with their families.
The ruins are on a very small hill so there is no workout involved in viewing them much of the temple is in shambles and was heavily looted. There are still some sitting Buddha images intact higher up on the walls. On the inside is a carving of a tug-of-war with participants tugging away on a serpent. The participants on the left have lost their heads to looters (they lost face), with the guys on the right still having their heads intact.
Ek Phnom is also easy to get to-just head north on the River Road (Road 1) a bit over 10 km (the road north of the Cobra Bridge snakes around a bit, but goes back to the river). As you are getting close to the temple, you will pass over a small concrete bridge. The road beyond will veer off to the right, but the modern temple is there to the left. Enter the new temple grounds and the ruins are located to the rear. Again, a round-trip moto-taxi is about 120 baht from Battambang.
Located on the east bank of the Sanker River, the temple is a simple and run down place. There is an unusual wall mural on the outside of the temple that features a progressing story of a bad dude that apparently killed his own mother and finally had to board a boat bound for hell. Strange, indeed.
The interesting feature of this wat is the Angkor replica about 110 meters sown a dirt path from the rear area of the temple. It was built in 1969 over a small concrete pool and is the pride of the monks staying there. They say spirits and relics of deceased monks are housed inside. Battambang is not short on temples and you will see many more around town and on the way to the sights outside of town.
Located between River Road 1 and Road 2, this temple is set amidst pleasant grounds and is an important spiritual center for Buddhism in Battambang.
Wat Tahm-rai-saw (White Elephant Pagoda)
Situated between Roads 2 and 3, this ornate temple is worth a look, especially during the Khmer New Year festivities when it becomes the happening place in town for festivities. Entertainment, classical dancing and plenty of water and powder being thrown by the masses in search of fun and good luck for the coming year.