Battambang However You Go

Finfoot from Maichrey (Siem Reap) up the Sangke River to Psaa Prahoc (Prahoc Market) and since you’ve bought your bike on the boat it’s a half hour cycle to Battambang and Jaan Bai restaurant for lunch, or ….

Moving house on the second itinerary

Be at the Central Train Station in Phnom Penh at 5.30am. The train might go at 6am then there’s a chance you might be in time for your lunch at Jaan Bai. You’ll enjoy the ride skirting the Cardamon Mountains. 

Our train was a little late 

Stopping randomly and availing yourself of the restaurant car, actually a table that slides across the floor as the train goes round corners. And there’s always a vehicle that admittedly is a little faster and will deposit you in reception but not an experience.

Psaa Nat or Central Marker above and its stalls below

Thirty meters from Jaan Bai is Psa Nat, or Central Market and this is a good place to start our Battambang City delve.

First a few facts; established in the 11th century during the Angkorian Empire. The fertile soil in the Tonle Sap basin made it the country’s leading rice producing province.

As the 17th century Empire declined it became a province of Siam, ruled as it happened by an offshoot of the Khmer Royal Family until ceded to the French and reunited with Cambodia in the 20th century.

The most developed city outside Phnom Penh, the streets were defined by a grid. In the 1930’s it had a railway line that connected it to the capital and an airport. 

A Norry

As with Phnom Penh in the 1950’s & 60’s Battambang was a center of French culture that ended with the Khmer Rouge. Leaving the railway abandoned by the city but adopted by local farmers. Using axles from discarded locomotives, they fitted bamboo platforms with a two-stroke engine and a rubber drive belt to make a norry.

A 1960’s street house

Today it’s the 3rd largest city in Cambodia, 120,000 people in 2019 though that’s difficult to work out because where does it begin and end.

So why is it special? That’s what we’re here to find out. At the river-end of the market lime green sequined gowns, padded bras, real nylon wigs and jars of nipple pinkening cream are amongst the wares on sale. In the middle of the market gold, or what looks like gold, at the top clothes and around the edge clockwise; fish stalls, followed by fruit, yellow bread, meat and vegetables.

Nearby are the Chinese shop houses that made up the then gem quarter now coffee shops, art galleries, bars including the exquisitely Chinese themed Miss Wong, Khmer and tourist restaurants. Freshy boy clothes shops on Doctor Who dummy’s that look like they might march the streets at night.

All roads lead to the river, now a promenade at dusk with street food stalls on the South side where a French colonial villa is squeezed between two multistory guest houses built by prisoners from the local jail.

The Governors Mansion

The Catholic Cathedral downstream, was destroyed by the Khmer Rouge but there’s enough left to make a worthwhile visit.

The museum a must, next to the Governors Mansion, next to the recently flattened Van Molyvann* sports center, then back to town via a 1960’s cinema.

*Cambodia’s leading 1960’s Courboisier inspired architect

Wat Ek Phnom

The task today is to get lost. East towards the Lake we might end up at Wat Ek Phnom, a cultural smorgasbord of kitch pagoda, 12th century temple, a ten-meter Buddha and what Wikipedia neglects to mention are the traditional Khmer wooden stilted houses, a feature of Battambang’s attraction.

Head South for ten kilometers until you come to a dusty street with Praset Basset at the end in a shady temple compound. Jayavarman VII must have had a vacation in Battambang as the Angkorian temples got built during his reign.

Phnom Basset

The Sangke River casts loose coils as it curves upstream towards the Cardamom Mountains and a spine of hills starting with the 400-meter Phnom Banan. The steps hurt but its worth the view and the small temple clad in magnolia flowers if you catch it in bloom.

Phnom Banan

Caught in the fertile meanders of the river are small fields of rice, vegetables and chilis. Clusters of stilted houses surround pagodas framed by sugar palm trees.

A monks house at Wat Ek Phnom

In Battambang it’s the places you don’t intend to go to that are the best.

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