advertisement

Until recently, Battambang was considered an undiscovered gem among those who ventured farther afield than Siem Riep, Phnom Penh, and Sihanoukville. It remains a gem, but it is also now being discovered in a big way. There are hotels, cafes, and restaurants in numbers. Not so long ago there were limited options, and your fellow diners would generally be NGO field workers, Scandinavian de-miners drinking copious amounts of beer while not on the job, and the occasional journalist heading to the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin in an attempt to unlock dark secrets (none have yet succeeded). As it stands at present, Battambang is in that precarious period of grace where what made it special has not been swamped by a tourist influx, but the comforts and facilities you might want to make it a comfortable stay are all in place. It may well stay that way given that Battambang will never see the same kind of flood of visitors justifiably attracted by the wonders of Angkor.

Battambang does not have major sites like Angkor Wat (where else does?), nor does it have the buzz of a capital city like Phnom Penh. In fact considering that it is Cambodia's second city it could still best be described as somnambulant. What Battambang does have is wonderful French colonnaded architecture and a relaxing riverside atmosphere. It is an elegant place in a slightly dusty and chaotic Cambodian way. In the surrounding countryside are temples, Angkorian ruins, and rich scenery. This is the "rice-bowl" of Cambodia, and if you are here when the paddies are green and the sun is shining, you are witness to a quintessential vision of Cambodian rural life. Many fall for its intangible grace. After a day spent exploring the jungled temple ruins in the countryside around the city, followed by a gin and tonic in the Riverside Balcony Bar with the sound of the Tropics gently drifting up from the trees and the river below, it is easy to see why.