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Cambodia’s second city, Battambang, is often overlooked as people flock to more popular destinations like Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. It might not have the big-draw palaces, temples, nightlife and museums of those cities, but it has plenty of surprises to discover below its sleepy surface, especially lately.

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Battambang has been experiencing a cultural renaissance over the past decade, making it one of Southeast Asia’s go-to destinations. It’s also the city where Angelina Jolie adopted her first child. She’s raised Battambang’s profile by investing in conservation and social projects in the province. And, just 3 hours from Angkor Wat, it’s ideally located for anyone who’s feeling templed out—just ask the original Lara Croft! Follow her example and head to Battambang for R&R, art, colonial architecture and lazy days by the river.


Kids waving from a floating village along the river

Kids waving from a floating village along the river

Boat there past floating villages via Tonelé Sap lake

Traveling by road takes 3 hours from Siem Reap, but if you have time, take the scenic route on the Tonlé Sap, Southeast Asia’s largest lake. The slow boat takes 6-9 hours depending on the season, but it’s worth every minute. Pass by floating villages complete with general stores, schools, police stations, cargo-laden barges, and ever-smiling and waving kids. It’s an up-close window into rural river life.

River boat

River boat on the Sanker

Join the bustling social scene on the banks of the Sangker River

Eventually, the slow boat finds itself on the Sangker River, a tributary almost as laid-back as Battambang’s residents. During the early evening, the riverside comes to life with vendors selling cotton candy, corn and colorful balloons. As the fading light slowly turns to indigo, street lamps glitter and locals gather on the eastern riverbank to participate in possibly the least strenuous form of exercise ever witnessed. The exercise class is accompanied by the sounds of Cambodian pop on a boom box.

Get your street food fix at the night stalls that set up on the western side of the river. Nearby, the recently reopened Balcony Bar is a local institution that welcomes those wishing to chill out with a sundowner overlooking the Sangker.

Battambang is a city, but it has the size and ambiance of a town, so it’s easy to navigate on foot. The art deco Psar Nath (Central Market) is the city’s main hub and a good place for cheap food, including the province’s famous green oranges. There are lots of places to rent bikes so that you can explore the lush countryside surrounding the river.

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Bambu Hotel, Battambang

Bambu Hotel, Battambang

Fill your Insta feed with the stunning, crumbling splendor of Battambang’s colonial architecture

Battambang is home to some of Indochina’s best preserved buildings, including the Governor’s Residence. The grand mansion was home to the last Thai governor until 1907 and its grounds are open to the public. Despite some gentrification, most of the buildings lining the streets rock shabby chic crumbling facades and shuttered windows. These buildings have been transformed into arty hotels, galleries, bars, and boutiques, such as the eclectic Bric-à-Brac, which combines all of the above!

Miss Wong, Battambang

The charming Miss Wong

If you’re looking to stay in a place that blends Khmer and French colonial architecture, try the Bambu Hotel. The boutique hotel is a 15-minute walk or short tuk tuk ride to the city center and provides an oasis of relaxation. Not to mention its small poolside bar has the best happy hour cocktails in town. If cocktails in elegant Chinoiserie interiors make you purr, check out Miss Wong, the most recent addition to Battambang’s nightlife. The chic cocktail lounge has been creating quite a buzz of late.

Tep Kao Sol Gallery

Take in a thriving arts scene—and some killer coffee!

Battambang is an ideal place to discover Cambodia’s cultural heritage while a brand new generation of artists emerges. Romcheik 5 Art Space leads the way with Battambang’s largest collection of art.

Tep Kao Sol–Loeum Lorn Gallery showcases watercolors and ice paintings by local artists. The Sangker Gallery is a studio hub where young Cambodian artists meet and work together in photography, mixed media and painting. For a post-art pitstop, Lan Chov Khorko Miteanh is a simple Chinese noodle restaurant right in the middle of these two galleries. Chow down on mouth-watering fried or steamed dumplings and hand-pulled noodles under $2 a dish.

Battambang’s thriving coffee and art scenes go hand in hand. Cafes provide artists a place to showcase their art while visitors enjoy the familiar taste of a cappuccino or iced coffee.

Battambang Circus

Battambang Circus

Witness amazing acrobatic feats—and support worthwhile causes

Phare Ponleu Selpak is at the forefront of Battambang’s artistic renaissance. The nonprofit art school offers classes to deprived and vulnerable children. Tourists can support this worthwhile cause by watching the students showcase their skills and infectious enthusiasm at the circus. The performances tell stories relating to social issues and Cambodia’s tragic history, which are both incredibly moving and uplifting. The best students get to travel the world and perform in international shows.

There are plenty of shops and services run by NGOs supporting local social enterprises. Jaan Bai has established a reputation as one of the best restaurants in the country and its profits contribute to the Cambodian Children’s Trust. Similarly, Hope of Blind Seeing Hands Massage offers traditional deep massages for super cheap prices while providing opportunities to the blind. Visiting Battambang makes everyone feel good!

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