Battambang was the best surprise of my Cambodia trip.
Initially, I had planned to go down south after a few days in Phnom Penh – and of course a visit to the famous temples of Angkor – but for some reason, I felt more like going to Battambang instead.
And so I went.
I stayed at the Bambu Hotel (which I highly recommend!), a pretty hotel in colonial style run by Pat, a super friendly English guy.
The hotel bar is a bit of a hangout for the local expat community (especially during the daily happy hour) which makes it a great place to meet new people and have a chat.
During my stay at the Bambu hotel, I met a couple of American guys who were traveling with a German girl. One of them had been living in Cambodia for ten years and thus knew exactly what to do in Battambang.
We jumped in a tuk-tuk late in the afternoon and went to a massive cave a few miles outside of Battambang to witness an incredible natural phenomenon.
But first, we drove up the hill to do some temple admiring.
We got a bit of background about the temple and the incredibly sad story about the killing cave that was next to it from a young man acting as (unofficial?) guide.
With the sunset near it was time to go back down to witness the mysterious spectacle we came for in the first place.
Are you curious yet?
You should be.
So, let me tell you what happens there in that cave, every day at sunset.
Hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of bats fly out of their dark hiding space to go into the night.
The exodus goes on for minutes on end and it’s as if the cave is pouring out bats, a pretty spectacular sight!
So spectacular even, that dozens of people gather in front of the crack in the cave, sat on little plastic chairs provided with a cold beer by the locals – who’ve turned the event into a business opportunity.
The next morning, my American friends had another unique experience in store for us.
We hopped into a tuk-tuk again on the lookout for…
Every morning (or almost), groups of Buddhist monks walk barefoot around Battambang to gather food. Each of them carries a bowl and every time they stop the locals give them a portion of rice with some homemade vegetables or other food.
To thank the hands that feed them (quite literally) the monks then chant a few phrases before they continue their food gathering round.
This probably was the most beautiful experience I’ve had in Cambodia. There was something very humbling about seeing those (sometimes very young) monks collecting their daily meal from the inhabitants of Battambang who probably don’t have tons of food to spare themselves.
Speaking of food, there’s at least one restaurant in Battambang I feel I should mention, it’s called Jaan Bai (which means rice bowl in Khmer). Not just because the food is good – which it definitely is – but also because by eating at Jaan Bai you support a good cause.
The restaurant is a social enterprise run by the Cambodian Children’s Trust and it provides hospitality training for young Cambodians.
I ended up staying in Battambang for almost a week. And if it wasn’t for my flight, I’d probably stayed there a little while longer. The town itself may not be super impressive – although it does have some beautiful colonial architecture – but the atmosphere is very relaxed.
It’s not flooded with tourists yet (like Siem Reap for example), the locals are super kind, and to me, it felt like the real Cambodia.
I loved it.