After a 3 hour, and actually surprisingly comfortable, shared mini-bus ride from Siem Reap, we arrived in the dusty and hot town of Battambang. After reading many other posts from fellow travel bloggers, who had been here before us, we expected a dirty town that was just good for a night or two to explore the surrounding attraction – The Killing Cave. On the surface, Battambang doesn’t inspire any desire to stay and explore the city but it’s when we left the tourist area that we discovered its true nature, charm and beauty.
🚌Siem Reap ▶️ Battambang Tip: Book a seat on the Mekong Express van. The seats are decent and you will not feel too cramped. The Mekong Express vans do not stop to pick up as many fares as possible, so you will never have to suddenly share your seat with anyone else. There was also wifi on board.
The Mekong Express van dropped us off at the Battambang office. As soon as we hopped off the van, the taxi mafia engulfed us. We fought our way through the scurry of men eagerly trying to sway us to use their tuk-tuk services. Luckily we had organized a pick-up tuk-tuk service with our hostel and we found our guy waiting calmly behind the whirlwind of tuk-tuk drivers. We loaded up our bags onto his tuk-tuk and set off on a journey that lasted roughly 3 minutes. We could have walked to our hostel but in the midday Battambang heat, a tuk-tuk was more than convenient.
We arrived at our hostel, Lucky Hostel. We booked a private room for 2 nights for just $12 a night – a pretty banging deal in our opinion. The only downside was that our room had only 1 window which looked out into the passage way. But it was clean and it had A/C so for $12 a night, we considered it a win.
After dropping our bags off at the hostel, we decided to get out and explore Battambang. First order of business was lunch and coffee. We did a quick search and headed over to Nary Kitchen. The food was fantastic and even came with a free soda or can of beer per main course order. We ordered a beef Lok-Lak and yellow curry with pork. The yellow curry with pork was the definite winner.
Towards the end of our meal, a slight downpour began. So we took it easy, watched the rain and started observing the happenings in the street. It was at this point we noticed a business across the way with two solid blue warehouse doors. What caught our eyes most, were the padlocks on the door being locked and unlocked by a teenage girl for the men of Battambang. There were cameras above the doors and walkie-talkies utilized by the young girl.
As a Sociology major, Celeste had studied and written about the various sex trafficking routes around the world. One of the major routes was through Cambodia. Cambodia had become a targeted country because of poverty and lack of education. Before coming to Cambodia we knew this was something that would be more apparent compared to other countries visited.
While we watched the blue doors being opened and closed, men shuffling in and out, we had a feeling this was none other than a brothel. Were the girls inside as young as the girl at the door? Were they there out of free will or force? What happened beyond those doors? Our minds raced with questions. We finally asked our nice restaurateur what it was. His response was short and to the point. “I cannot talk about it, a very strong man owns that building.” Enough said. We didn’t press on. All we knew is that whatever was happening beyond those doors was unsavory. This was also a brief intro into what we would encounter through the rest of our journey around Cambodia.
After lunch, we stopped in at the Choco L’Art Cafe for a delicious and strong Cambodian coffee. If there is one thing we love, it’s strong Southeast Asian coffee with a decent dollop of condensed milk.
After our caffeine kicked in, we walked down the back streets just south of Psar Market and stopped in at the art galleries, for which Battambang is known. This area has some great cafes, galleries and curio shops to explore.
Up until this point, Battambang hadn’t really proved itself to be a pretty city by any means. The streets were dusty and dirty. The buildings looked old and not well maintained – except for the touristy cafes, galleries and curio shop of course. It wasn’t until we ventured across the river and over the bridge that we discovered Battambang’s true charm. Once over the bridge, we found a lush river-side park buzzing with locals, soft green grass and tall trees providing the much needed escape from the hot sun. The locals, comprised of all ages, were enjoying this area in so many different ways. Kids were playing together on the grass. Men and women in spandex were getting their daily exercise either by walking, running or as a part of an exercise group. Families were having picnics and playing badminton. Young couples were sitting on the grass. Also lining the park were many food vendors barbecuing different meats and vegetables for those who wanted a snack. This was it. This was the charm and atmosphere we were looking for. It reminded us so much of one of our favorite parks in our beloved city of Chuncheon in South Korea where we first met 7 years ago. Needless to say, we found a comfortable patch of grass and planted ourselves there to enjoy the sunset.
For dinner, we crossed back over the bridge and headed down the Battambang pub street. We stopped in at a restaurant which, for the life of me, I cannot remember its name. The food was below average but they redeemed themselves with their $.50 draft beer special. After dinner, we called it a night and walked back to our hotel.
The next morning we were up early to enjoy a delicious buffet style breakfast at HOC Cafe. After breakfast we went back over to Mekong Express and booked our tickets down to Phnom Penh for the following day. After we got our admin out of the way, we went over to Gecko Cafe and rented a scooter for $6. From prior research into the best places to rent a scooter, Gecko Cafe had consistently come up as the most reliable. Gecko Cafe is a really cute little store with souvenirs, art and trinkets. We strapped on our helmets, hopped on our single-banger steed and set off out of town.
Our first stop was a relaxing lunch and swim at the lake side restaurant, Boeung Tracheak Resort. (Find the location here). This restaurant is a great spot to hang out at if you are looking for a lazy afternoon. We ate some food, drank a few beers, jumped in the water to cool off and then dozed off in our hammocks for an hour or so.
After lunch, we went over to our next stop – the Prasat Phnom Banan Winery. The winery location has actually moved to about a kilometer south of the location in the link above. There is a big banner outside the old location that will point you in the right direction. The winery is a little strange and baron to say the least but we had made the effort to get there so we had to try the wines. We paid $2.50 a head at the counter and sat down at a table where they brought us our samplers. The sample set consisted of 1 red wine, 1 brandy, 1 shot of grape juice and 1 shot of ginger juice. Unfortunately, the best part of this tasting were the grape and ginger juices. The red wine tasted like grape juice mixed with a little vodka. The brandy tasted like vodka with a little bit of red wine. The grape and ginger juices tasted like grape and ginger juice so at least they were honest.
Next up was the main event – the Killing Cave. We scooted over to the Killing Cave which is located at the top the Phnom Sampov hill. At the bottom of the hill, you will need to pay an entrance fee of $2 per person. Once on top of the hill, the directions were all a bit confusing as there are 3 attractions at the top of the hill none were clearly marked. It is also important to note that timing is important if you are planning to watch the endless stream of bats exiting the hill at sunset.
We got to the top of the hill and found ourselves at a Buddhist temple. We walked down the stair case and entered a cave in which they have a Buddhist statue. After the temple, we hopped back on the scooter and went up another road which lead us to a view point. This view point was spectacular and very picturesque. Strike 2 and still no Killing Cave and the sun was getting lower. We hurried back onto our scooter and headed halfway down the hill to the last unexplored road.
Here we found the parking area for the Killing Cave. We were greeted by a young man who took us over to the entrance of the Killing Cave. It seemed as if he was really trying to earn a tip for verbally battering us with a ton of information on the history of the cave. The whole layout was, again, a little confusing. There was a small cave at the bottom of a steep slope. I went inside while Celeste waited outside. There was nothing inside besides trash (sadly not unexpected) and a few bugs. Was this really it? There had to be more.
We walked around, exploring the area a little more and eventually found a display detailing the cruel and torturous practices of the Khmer Rouge soldiers. I am not going to go into a detailed history of Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge here as there is far too much information to convey. But in nutshell, the Khmer Rouge soldiers, who were largely uneducated and fought for the communist Angkar lead by Pol Pot, were responsible for the slaughter of millions of educated Cambodians. The Killing Cave is just one of the many sites scattered across Cambodia where many innocent Cambodians lost their lives.
Next to the cave you can find statues which portray examples of what the Khmer Rouge did to their fellow Cambodians in order to torture and kill. Something to be noted is that the Khmer Rouge did not use bullets as they were deemed to expensive. In turn, they used more barbaric forms of execution often including farm equipment.
The display was somber and sobering. Just a few meters away, we found the place where the tortured dead bodies and sometimes even people still alive, were dropped down into the cave.
As mentioned before, another popular thing to do at the base of this hill is to watch the countless bats exiting the cave at sunset. While up at the Killing Cave, we saw the stream of bats begin their departure as the sun started to set. So we quickly jumped back on our scooter and drove down to the base of the hill. At the base there are many stalls with plastic chairs arranged along side the road. Don’t stop at the first restaurants. Continue for about 100 meters to find the restaurants with the best view. We parked our scooter, bought a drink, sat down on the plastic chairs and watched the show. Millions upon millions of bats were exiting the cave in a constant stream. It was really a sight to behold. The whole exodus takes about 45 minutes. Don’t miss this!
After the bat show was finished, we headed back into town, grabbed dinner at The River outdoor restaurant. This is a good place to enjoy a drink, enjoy some fried snacks and watch a sporting event on the big screen.
We then returned the scooter and called it a night.
The next morning we woke up and headed over to the Mekong Express office to catch the 5 hour ride down to Phnom Penh.
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