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talesofasia guide to the provinces of Cambodia


Battambang & Pailin

updated December 2005

Battambang has lately become one of Cambodia's more popular provinces for tourism. Easily accessible, after the temples of Angkor, the bustle of Phnom Penh, the beaches of Sihanoukville, the hilltribes of Ratanakiri, Battambang offers another side of Cambodia - the rural agrarian side, as Battambang has always been the breadbasket of the country.

The best time to visit is during the rainy season or just after, when the fields flash in electric green revealing the full splendor and beauty of rural Cambodia, an attraction that leaves many a positive impression on foreign visitors.

Battambang is bordered on the west by Thailand, on the north by Banteay Meanchey, to the northeast by Siem Reap, on the east by the Tonle Sap lake, and to the south by Pursat. Pailin, a semi-autonomous region is surrounded by Battambang on three sides and by Thailand on the fourth.

I've been through Battambang a few times and wrote a full story on it back in 2000. The travelogue will offer further insight into some of the attractions listed below. Though the visit was over five years ago and some of the practical matters have changed, the attractions themselves have not. You may read it here.

Pailin and Battambang are mentioned in a story about a motorbike trip I took in April 2001 which you can read here.

Battambang (town)
Kamping Puoy
Phnom Sampeau
Wat Banan
Wat Ek Phnom
Northern Cardamoms

Battambang (town)
The provincial capital and second largest city (a distant second) in the country, Battambang, while rapidly changing, still has a lot of rural charm and is absolutely worth spending a night or two. Several bar/restaurants catering to westerners have recently opened along the river road just south of the main market (Psah Nat). There is no shortage of Khmer eateries on either side of the river.

The main attractions are scattered around the countryside and half the fun is getting there, enjoy the scenery while you do. Many pagodas and chatty monks around as well.

About the only thing not listed in the guidebooks is the crocodile farm along the way to Wat Ek Phnom, ask a motodriver if you're interested. And don't arrive drunk, when I visited in 2000 it was a matter of using cement walkways above the crocodile pits with no barriers, no fences, nothing.

I've always stayed at the Teo Hotel, which is still the top place in town, clean rooms starting at $11. Good restaurant. Budget travelers seem to favor the Chhaya Hotel which is one block south of Psah Nat. The Teo is another four blocks south. It's easy to spot - it's quite large.

Battambang is served by bus, boat, train, and taxi. The airport is closed indefinitely. Boat: Speedboats daily to and from Siem Reap, 3-14 hours depending on the time of year, $10-15. Train: to and from Phnom Penh, slow and cheap, a couple of times a week. Taxi, pick-up trucks to and from anywhere you can draw a line to on the map. Proper bus service to and from Phnom Penh, Sisophon/Poipet, and Siem Reap. Road is an excellent condition.

The following four sites comprise the standard Battambang itinerary and any motodop worth his salt will be very familiar with these locations. Getting to any of these places should pose no difficulties.

Kamping Puoy
This is a Khmer Rouge-era dam beyond Phnom Sampeau that is unique for Khmer Rouge-era dams in that it's still standing and functioning. It's been said that thousands of lives were lost in its construction, their bodies buried in the cement. A friend of mine in the construction business says that's impossible because the bodies would decompose, leaving holes in the foundation that would cause the structure to collapse. I have no idea then whether the legend is true or the practical reasoning of my friend is true, so maybe the bodies are in there, maybe not. Either way, this huge dam was built at the expense of as many as 10,000 lives. Today it's a very popular picnic ground and swimming hole for the locals, especially on the weekend. Worth a visit to see the countryside and chat with friendly locals. See it after visiting Phnom Sampeau. See my other Battambang page for photos and further details.

Phnom Sampeau
On the way to Pailin, this is arguably the main attraction in the Battambang area. It's a boat shaped hill with a pagoda, war remnants, views, and a Khmer Rouge victim's memorial. Worth a few hours. Plenty of places to eat at the bottom of the hill and across the street. Do see but try to arrive early so you're not walking up the hill in the hot sun. Again, see my other Battambang page for photos and further details.

Wat Banan
South of town. Another hike up a hill - a few hundred steps, anyway. An 11th century mini-Angkor Wat with nice views and a big artillery gun to play with. See it on the way back from Kamping Puoy and Phnom Sampeau and stay on the paths. There are probably still mines on this hill. Again, see my other Battambang page for photos and further details.

Wat Ek Phnom
North of town, combine with a visit to the crocodile farm. 11th century temple that is now mostly rubble. According to my motodriver, this temple's ruinous state is the result of it being dismantled by the Khmer Rouge. Active pagoda next door. Again, see my other Battambang page for photos and further details.

Once a Khmer Rouge stronghold, Pailin is now a friendly, peaceful town in a scenic corner of western Cambodia. There isn't much to see except to say you've been here, but the road from Battambang is good so you won't waste a lot of time and energy getting here and you can now pass through to or from Thailand as there is a proper border crossing near here.

When I visited in April 2001 I stayed at the Hang Meas Pailin Hotel and it was more than adequate.

Pailin makes its money off gems, casinos, and whatever crosses the border that the rest of us need not know about. You will certainly be offered the opportunity to buy some stones, but I suggest you know what you're doing before you do. The casinos are at the border about 20 kilometers from town. Whatever else goes on around here doesn't concern you, however, do not let someone tell you that this is some crazy Khmer Rouge town with rogue soldiers looking for foreigners to rob or kidnap. It doesn't happen, the place is fine. However, do be concerned about land mines so don't go wandering off the roads.

There are a couple of pagodas in and around town and a few waterfalls, but other than that it's nothing more than a nice ride out, a night on the town, and a ride back to Battambang the following day.

Northern Cardamoms
If you can handle a motorbike, Battambang, along with Pailin, serves as the northern gateway to the Cardamom range. Head towards Pailin and turn left at the village that's about an hour beyond the Kamping Puoy turn-off. Start heading south and watch the landscape rapidly change to mountains and jungle. This is not a trip for novices. For more information on traversing the Cardamoms see the Pursat and Koh Kong province pages and also read this story.

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