Considering it is considered Cambodia’s second city, Battambang is a surprisingly quaint and low-key town. This is perhaps because it was off limits to most visitors until the Khmer Rouge cease-fire in 1996, but now it’s an increasingly popular destination for travellers who search for “”real Cambodia””. It retains the character of a local market town, a far cry from the hustle and bustle of both Phnom Penh or Siem Reap (which could/should be considered Cambodia’s second city!). There is a noticeably different feel on the streets – the pace of life is slower here, the people friendlier and the famous Cambodian smile much more in evidence.
Downtown Battambang is home to a collection of French colonial era shophouses rivalled only by Kampot on Cambodia’s southern coast and, as Cambodians love markets, Battambang is home to several. Of particular interest is ‘Psar Nat’ (“”meeting place market””) in the centre of town, housed in an impressive art deco style building and worth a look although it has a reputation for being the most expensive market in town. There are some food stalls in the centre of the market where cheap eats are available. The larger ‘Psar Boeung Chhouk’ is more of a wholesale market and especially busy in the early morning. It would appear that almost anything can be bought here!
Thanks to the relatively benign leadership of the local Khmer Rouge commanders between 1975 and 1979, many of the city’s temples fared better than those in the rest of the country and make fascinating places to visit. There’s plenty to do, but you needn’t feel guilty if you miss something – a visit here is mainly about connecting with the real Cambodia, rural Cambodia.
The town is best accessed via a picturesque boat trip from Siem Reap.