The West of Cambodia


Global Mark : 13.51

Ratings by criteria : 

Charm Scenery Culture Market Relax Fiesta 


4 3 3 3 3 2 2 11.43

Ratings by backpackers :

Surveyed Liked  Comeback  Recommend  Range AVER.
5 100% 60% (3) 100% 12 to 20 15.60

Description : A relaxed little town by the river with lots of colonial buildings and a few outside attractions.

Comments : The place is charming enough for a quick break on the way to / from Siem Reap but if you are urged by time...

What to do ? Walk the peaceful town / Talk with monks at the Wat / Wander around the markets : honey, insects,... / Unlock the door of the small museum ($1) / Degust ice creams / Watch satellite TV in your room / Discover a new use for a mango during the ritual (bad) pornographic movie in the evening / Ride the countryside / Get up stairs to Phnom Sampeau, a temple offering panoramic view (12km) / Then get down stairs to caves offering horrific evidence of the Khmer Rouge activity in the area / Negotiate a motorbike tour of the area : the above plus Wat Banan (a smaller version of Angkor Wat sitting on a hill 25km away), Kamping Poy (a huge hand built dam, 36km away) and small villages for around $7 / Cycle along the river toward Wat Ek Phnom, a small 10th century Temple

What you may not like ? The lack of cheap or good GH and the difficulty to get a discount at the hotels / The beggars / The limited English of the local people / The useless tourist office / The locked attractions / The lack of bicycle for rent / Bumping & sweating too much on the road / The unimpressive temples if coming from Angkor / Spending $7 on a not-so-much-to-see tour / The 10,000 lives it took to built the damn dam ! / The lack of serenity at the killing field / Crawling deep inside those macabre caves / 

How long ? Half a day for the town. Eventually another day for the surroundings' sights.

Where to stay ? Quite a few hotels or GH in town but the same deal everywhere : rooms w. attached shower & satellite TV for $5 or $4 without TV. This is certainly good value for money but where are the cheapies ?

  • Monorom GH, the first GH you will pass if walking south the river road from the jetty / Sgl, Dbl or Trpl w. shower, old TV & fridge $4.5, $5 or $6 / Go there if lazy as the rooms have little charm & it is noisy. It is however the cheapest place to stay if one or three...
  • Golden Parrot GH (formerly Sekmeas Hotel), opposite the market / Dirty, grotty & noisy but only $3 w. shower but no TV ($5 otherwise)
  • ® Hotel Royal (015 912 034), just west of the above, off the busy street / Sgl or Dbl w. HW shower, fridge & remote control TV $5 or $6, one dollar less if no TV / Go there for the nice, big & clean rooms / What you may not like : the un-inviting lobby, some rooms with interior windows only
  • Phnom Pich Hotel (015 535362), Street 3, north of the market / Sgl or Dbl w. shower, fridge & TV $5 or $6, w. AC $9 or $10 / Chinese Management / Water dispenser / Rather small, dirty & noisy.
  • ® Hotel Asie (015 912034), Rd La-a, 300m north of the market on the way to the pick-ups station/ Same group as Hotel Royal, same cleanliness and same prices but one dollar cheaper for Dbl occupancy / Go there if not alone / What you may not like : the not as big, quiet nor centrally located rooms 
  • International Hotel, south of the center of the market / Grotty & small rooms without window $6 or $10 w. AC
  • Chhaya Hotel (053 952170), Street 3, just south of the market / Rooms w. shower & remove control TV $5, w. fridge $6, w. AC at night $8, w. 24 hours AC $10 / Go there for the cheapest AC / What you may not like : the rather grotty & noisy rooms
  • ® Paris Hotel (2037), south of the above / Rooms w. shower & old TV $5 / Water dispenser / Go there for the large upper rooms offering a good view from a small terrace / What you may not like : the older look
  • Golden River Hotel (053 730165), south of the above, near the train station / Rooms w. shower & TV $5 / Go there to speak Khmer as the staff does not speak English. The rooms are also a bit grotty
  • Angkor Hotel (053 952310), east of the above on the river bank (street 1) / Dbl w. AC, shower & TV $10 / Go there to check the rooms as often full and the nice view on the river

Backpacker's Tips : Stefan Westerheide, Germany (Jan 05)
« Royal Hotel dbl br fan tv very clean 6 $ very good value nice rooftop bar. Best place to eat White Rose.
If you go to Thailand via Pailin which is the fastest way get some baht in Battambang or Pailin, because there´s no exchange at the border (at least not on the Thai side). Shared taxi (9 persons! 4 adults in the front, 4 adults plus one child in the back) to thai border near pailin 3h 7$ from pickup station in the south of battambang. First half of road okay, second half horrible. No problems at border.»

Where to eat ?
Great naem & spring rolls (R200 a piece, come with a peanuts sauce & side salad) are available on the east side of the market. For dinner, food stalls can be found on the street south of Wat Phiphitaram. For dessert, treat yourself with a good Wall's ice cream (sundaes R3000, banana split R4000) at famous Phmay Preuk Restaurant in the south part of town. And for western delicacies with a price tag in US$, shop just opposite the market next to the GH.

Backpacker's Tips : Helle-Mai and Jarek, Estonia & Poland (March 04)
« On the roof of Royal Hotel there are 3 ok dbl rooms for 3$ (bathroom outside), probably they only show you them if you arrive without motomen.
Road between Sisophon-Battambang has been renewed and is now smooth and mostly asphalted. Journey by pickup takes now 1 hour, prices were 80R inside and 50R outside, due to fall probably.
From Battambang to Sampeau hill is 12 km, about one nice shaking hour by bike - good trip (bikes we got from Royal hotel - 2$ each). There is now entrance fee for visiting hill - 2$, (try to ask student discount.)
Battambang-Phnom Penh buses cost 16000R.

Backpacker's Tips : Vicky Munn, England (Nov 02)
« The bamboo 'funny' train recommended by the motto drivers is an interesting experience, very innovative. Our motto drivers David and Panha (at the Royal Hotel) spoke incredible English. 
I second the 'Smokin Pot' recommendation both for food and cookery lessons - if you thought Cambodian food wasn't much cop go here.

Backpacker's Tips : Rolf Birrenbach, Germany (Sept 02)
« I´d like to recommend you the "Smokin' Pot" - Thai Cambodian Cookery School & Restaurant. A really charming place in center. Eat the cheap and delicious food under romantic light and you will decide to study to cook what you eat on the next day at the same place! 
west of Angkor Hotel (between street 1 and 2) phone: 012-657125

Internet ? A few places on Street 1 along the river. The cheapest place is ABC at No86, north of Angkor Hotel : $6 per hour, R3000 to send one message written off line or R4000 per hour writing.

Bike ? There are no official renter in town but with so many local people on bike, it is just a matter of persuading one that he could make good money fast ($1 or 2 for one day). I got an old bike from one of the staff of Royal Hotel. 

A bumpy ride out ?

It took me one hour to locate a bike I could borrow for the day and the miracle happened were I had started : my hotel ! But in between, the proposed guide had left the lobby and I had proved my determination... Anyway, I did not get a professional renting bike but an old retired one. Price of the favor : R5000.

It took me one hour to reach the hill, on a bad hole full of roads. It is not difficult to find : turn right after Ly Hok GH, then pedal straight ahead (that is if you forget the roads imperfections). On the way, you will pass a pottery & ceramic fabric (probably worth a look if open) and a few villages (probably worth exploring if time)

After the road test came the stairs test. This is not something you should carry on like me at the hottest time of the day or increase your water budget accordingly ! There are lots of shops for that around. 

The temple was really nothing special but the view from the top of the luxuriant hill was great. But my main goal was to visit a nearby killing field. It is possible to have a kid showing you the way but it isn't too complicated to find : when going up, you will notice a first shrine on the right of the stairs. The small path leading to the caves is just after on the right, before the staircase turns left and stone tablets written in Khmer. At an intersection with tiny paths, take the bigger path going down and then stick to the right. It will soon go up again. You will reach some concrete structures within 5mn and then the "donation center". 

At this level, there are two staircases, one on each side of the building. The left one lead to a locked bamboo gate : you will need the key of the old nun to see a big cave with some bones, a lying Buddha and a few joking young monks. This is also where you can slide down another cave to see more bones on the ground. Cavernous ! The right staircase leads to the torture cave where bones have been disposed on a box. If you feel comfortable enough about the place, you could scrawl down inside a tiny hole for more macabre discoveries...

 << Discover a few sights

Backpacker's Tips :  Ben, Kiwi (August 04)
« Don't miss out on the Bamboo Railway! Enterprising locals make use of the fact that the rail track is most of the day unused... with their home-made railway wagons. Take two axles with wheels, place them on track, place a bamboo platfoom (ca. 3m long by 2m wide??) on top of the axles, plant a 3hp generator on the platform and link to an axle with a belt. Voila, you have the fastest & smoothest land-bound transportation in Cambodia. I hired my own bamboo railway from some outlying village for the 20 minute ride back in to BB. It cost the standard Cambodian price of $US1. Riding the wagon were myself, my moto driver, our moto, and the two kids who assembled the wagon on the tracks and then had us whipping along at speeds normal Cambodian trains wouldn't dream of. On our way into BB, we rounded a curve to find an oncoming train dribbling along towards us. The kids more or less threw the moto into nearby bushes then hastily disassembled the wagon, throwing its various bits away from the track. We stood by and waited for the Phnom Penh express to rumble past, before re-assembling the wagon for the journey into BB. An unforgettable experience! »

Leaving Battambang ?

To Siem Reap : boat from opposite the Provincial Hospital, 7am, $15, 3.5 hours. You will arrive at a Vietnamese fishing village from where you need to change boat for a 30mn ride toward land ($1). Then it is another 30mn to the center of town ($1-2 but probably free as taxi drivers will get a 20% commission from the GH)

To Phnom Penh : By train : 6:40 arr 8pm, R12300, recommended to stop at Pursat (R5000, arr. 12) then continue by pick-up / By pick-up : when passengers, $5 in cabin (same price by taxi if full), $2 outside, 9 hours, very bad road until Pursat. Prices are the same if stop at Kompong Chhnang.

To Sisophon : By train : 6 (or 8am ?) arr 9:30, R3900  / By pick-up : when passengers, R5000 in cabin, R3000 outside

To Thai Border (Poipet) : By road only, 3 hours, around $4 inside or $3 outside.

The trip to Pursat : SS / R / Free for foreigners / 4.5 hrs / Train / No class at all
Officially, foreigners are still not allowed to take the train for safety reasons. And this is why they are discouraged with an extreme financial policy : it is free ! Indeed, the government does not want to be accountable for anything happening and without a ticket, they are obviously not in charge !
But things have changed recently for the better and this particular ride does not look nowadays too adventurous from a personal safety point of view. Things are however different from a culture shocks point of view...
I had a couple of colorful train rides in my backpacking life but this was arguably the most crazy of all so far : the train's roof was going into pieces, one could spot the rail track by looking down, some passengers had casually set up hammocks, beggars were walking the two wagons singing or playing the flute with the participation of a few roosters, salesgirls with snack's case on the head were making business, baby cried, men spitted on the floor, women chewed betel, all that and more while sweating in the heat and tangling in cadence at very slow motion. Never mind that the scenery outside the train stations was a bit monotonous : the show was deep inside ! 
There was a charismatic controller but he did not bother asking where I was going with my non-ticket. Actually, he did not even look at me ! This would maybe have been an official recognition of my presence...
It was very hot everywhere but in particular on the left side which was getting the morning sun. If you can not bring your personal aircond, get at least a portable fan. 
Believe it or not but we left and arrived both on time. Difficult indeed to be slower...

 << Discover a train adventure

Backpacker's Tips : Philip, UK (April 01)
« As of March 2001 the trains only leave every other day and cost three times more for foreigners ! » 

Backpacker's Tips : Jackie Boyer, UK (March 01)
« The train is no longer free, it's new policy to charge tourist extra. Tickets are checked, and a fine is most likely payable. » 

See also the trip from Siem Reap