If you ever ask someone what to do in Battambang you almost always get the reply “The Bamboo Train!” While the Bamboo Train is definitely a strangely unique experience not to be missed, there is certainly a lot more that this town has to offer.
Battambang is the second largest city in Cambodia and is located about 3 hours by bus south west of Siem Reap. Having been colonised by the French back in 1907, the city boasts French colonial architecture and, these days, has become a bustling riverside town for those tourists looking for a break from Pub Street and a chance to visit the artistic galleries and charming cafes that line the streets of the main city centre. There is also a number of social enterprises located here in Battambang that provide opportunities to the many people who live in the surrounding rural villages.
If you’re heading to Battambang be prepared for a few days of relaxation, good food and cultural experience.
Jaan Bai is one of the largest social enterprises located in Battambang. The restaurant provides skills and employment for youth in the programs of the Cambodian Children’s Trust, an NGO in Battambang that helps children to break free from the poverty cycle and become educated and empowered. If you visit Jaan Bai you will feel like you are in a 5 star restaurant back home, but for half the price. The food is fantastic as well. I ordered the famous dumplings and they were some of the best dumplings I have ever had!
Kinyei Café is a trendy café located on 1.5 street in the centre of Battambang. The café provides training and employment opportunities to vulnerable youth in the community and also acts as a co-working space that hosts peer-learning events for the community, open to local groups and visitors alike who wish to share skills or knowledge in public workshops. You can pick yourself up a great fair trade coffee here, made using Feel Good Coffee, Cambodia’s number one fair trade coffee brand. The menu is fantastic too. Try the peanut butter and Banana toasty for some childhood nostalgia.
The Lonely Tree Café
The Lonely Tree Café is a pleasant little café located in the main centre of Battambang. The downstairs area is a shop where they sell traditional Khmer handmade goods crafted by physically disabled people, mostly victims of land mine accidents and poliomyelitis. The café works in association with the NGO S.A.U.C.E, a Spanish NGO that provides education, healthcare and disability services to the people of rural Battambang. By visiting the restaurant you are helping to fund many their projects and helping the people in the local community. The food and atmosphere is great too. They have a nice upstairs balcony where you can look over the streets of Battambang while enjoying your meal.
Café Eden is also a shop and café combined. You can purchase handmade goods that help the women of the local community or you can enjoy some delicious Cambodian coffee and a nice meal on your visit. The café is all about empowering the local people to help themselves, and they do this by teaching them new skills and creating jobs. Well worth the visit if you’re in Battambang.
Phare Ponleu Selpak Circus
Phare Ponleu Selpak is an organisation that promotes community development by providing children, young adults and their families with social, educational, emotional and cultural support, mainly in the form of the arts. The organisation opened an arts school in 1998 that created an alternative path for many disadvantaged youth in the community, and now over 1000 students learn here for free, some of which perform their skills every second night at the famous Phare Ponleu Selpak Circus. The circus showcases the talent of various dancers, acrobats, contortionists and musicians, and each performance is of extreme precision. You can see the passion in the students, some of which have taken their talents to France to perform for larger audiences. The circus costs $14, and all proceeds go to keeping the school running and providing opportunity to the youth of Battambang.
Cycle to the Rural Villages
There are many cycling tours in Battambang that take you through the countryside and provide you with a taste of local life. Soksabike provides sustainable and educational bicycle tours, with proceeds going back to the work that Kinyei do. Their tours can be a bit pricey if you’re on a backpacking budget so the alternative is the Free Cycling Tour, a small organisation set up by local Cambodian students as a way to earn some money while studying. Sam and his friends will take you through rural Battambang and share local practices such as rice wine production, rice paper production and Banana drying. You’ll also get to taste the local foods along the way. You can contact Sam on +855 93 96 15 26 and book a tour for only $5, and a donation on top of that if you wish.
Pack for a Purpose
If you haven’t heard of the Pack for a Purpose initiative it basically means making a difference to the communities you visit by packing useful items such as books, pencils and bags. The idea is to leave a little more space in your bag for things to give to others. Pack for a Purpose run a collection in Battambang at the Phka Villa. If you haven’t brought anything from home you can visit a local shop and purchase goods for much cheaper than you would back home and deliver them to the Phka Villa. The goods you donate will go to the Sobbhana Day Care Centre, a centre that provides pre school education and meals to 75 children from 8 remote villages of Battambang.
Aside from these activities Battambang has a wonderful arts scene and you can visit the many art galleries located on streets 2 & 2.5. Sammaki is a great gallery that showcases works from local artists and really works to promote art in the community. Sammaki also provides a free space for artists to make presentations, workshops and artists talks, or use the space to rehearse or otherwise create in.
Battambang is growing each year and becoming an increasingly popular place for tourists to visit. Spend about 3 – 4 days here exploring the town or even longer if you wish to get a taste of what life is like in the rural areas. Visit art galleries, dine at the number of both Western and Cambodian restaurants which are much cheaper than Phnom Penh or Siem Reap, or just enjoy a Cambodian coffee by the riverside. I would certainly recommend putting Battambang on your itinerary.
Do you have or know of any ethical restaurants or activities in Battambang? Please do get in touch and I will feature it on the article.
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