I came to Battambang simply because I’m a bit of a transport nerd and I’d heard about the Bamboo Train (possibly the last of its kind in Cambodia) but there is so much more to this town than just the train.
The Bamboo Train and Bat Cave (Phnom Sampov)
While organising my bus ticket to Phnom Penh for the next day I stumbled on a tuk tuk driver who offered to take me to these two attractions for $15. While slightly higher than the going rate he promised to take me through the villages on the way to the cave rather than just going along the highway like the other tuk tuk drivers where there is nothing to see and it was definitely worth the few extra dollars.
First up he took me to the Bamboo Train which was such an amazing experience. There are really mixed reviews about this attraction but I absolutely loved it and thought it was well worth the trip to Battambang just for this. If you’re traveling solo you can pay $10 for a train to yourself otherwise its $5 per person to share. Don’t let them force you to pay the $10; I just said I was happy to wait for someone to share with and ended up meeting a lovely couple from Venice. The ride itself takes about 20 minutes each way (depending on how many times you have to stop to let trains coming the other way pass) and at the end you stop for between ten and twenty minutes. There is tourist shops and if you want to buy something go nuts, otherwise just say a firm no thank you and they will leave you alone.
After the train it was back to town for an hour before leaving again for Phnom Sampov. As promised, shortly after leaving town we turned off the highway and bounced down single lane dirt roads for about half an hour where I got a glimpse of the “real Cambodia”. Most of the people we passed seem just as fascinated by me as I was by them and smiled and waved as we drove past. It is really dusty though so I would recommend wearing a face mask like a lot of the locals do. It’s also not a good idea to spend your hour break at Gloria Jeans like I did; all that bouncing after a large ice coffee wasn’t pleasant!
Once you get to Phnom Sampov you have to pay $2 to go to the top and there is two ways of getting up there. You can either walk up (tiring but the way I chose to go) or you can get a motorbike to drive you for $1 ($3 if you want them to take you to each stop and back down again) The first stop on your way up is the killing cave and a temple. There is lots of bones and skulls on display from all the people who died here. It’s confronting, but part of the history of Cambodia. Next up was another temple and monkeys. So many monkeys!! Further up is a viewing platform and shops selling much needed cold drinks and ice cream. You can then go into another cave or head down the steps to the bottom. If you chose to do this solo like I did, make sure you allow plenty of time; there aren’t many signs and I got horribly lost trying to find my way back down as there is steps leading in every direction and no indication of where they lead! The other option to get a guide who will walk up with you and show you around while explaining the history of Phnom Sampov.
Once safely back on level ground it’s time to find a good seat to wait for the bats. They seem to come out at a different time each day, so sometimes it takes a little patience, but it’s definitely worth the wait. At first you’ll see one or two bats come out and then it’s a steady stream that just doesn’t stop! It was truly fascinating to watch. After watching the bats for about fifteen minutes it was time to head back to town.
There is a lot more to Battambang than just the two attractions that I chose to see/do. There is a circus, cultural tours, markets and cooking classes to name a few. There is also a number of nice restaurants and cafes where you can just sit back and watch the world go by. It’s a really small town so it’s easy to get around and you can get a basic hotel room with a private bathroom for $5 a night. Just don’t expect there to be hot water! It’s only three and a half hours by bus from Siem Reap or five hours from Phnom Penh. You can also take a boat from Siem Reap, but it’s much better to do this in the wet season as there isn’t really enough water in the dry season and you’ll spend a good portion of your journey in the back of a pick-up truck when your boat gets stuck in the mud! It’s also going to take you about nine hours during the dry season.