Top 5 things to do in Battambang with kids
Battambang (or Battambong as it is pronounced) is a town you are unlikely to have heard if you live outside Cambodia or neighbouring countries. Despite that, it’s Cambodia’s second largest city, behind Phnom Penh and ahead of Siem Reap, and is located in the North West of the country.
Famous for its French colonial architecture, Battambang is not typically on the family tourist trial. In fact, for the four days we spent here we didn’t see a single western family with young children. As is usually the case though, you can have some of the best times when you least expect it and that was certainly the case for us in Battambang. Here we will list our 5 favourite things to do in Battambang with kids.
1. Bamboo Train
Where – 6km south of central Battambang.
How much – USD$5 per adult. Free for children
Ok, we have to admit something. We intentionally chose to visit Battambang because of the bamboo train. We first saw this in an episode of Jack Whitehall’s brilliant ‘Travels with my Father‘ on Netflix and thought there is no way we can be in the region and not come to Battambang to visit it.
The name comes from the bamboo surface that you sit on whilst on the train. When we say ‘train’ it is really just wheels, a motor and the bamboo platform. The somewhat rudimentary transport is of course part of its charm, but what makes this so different is the way the train deals with oncoming traffic.
With only one line, and many trains, there is no way to avoid each other. The ingenuity of the bamboo train is that this is easily addressed by just dismantling one of trains. Yes. If you have fewer passengers, or less trains behind you, then you are required to hop off and take your train apart. This only takes a couple minutes. Once done, the oncoming train passes through and you reassemble and get back on track!
There is a small village at the end of the track selling the usual souvenirs and drinks. We obliged and bought the girls a USD$2 scarf. Much needed in the exposed sun, and a bracelet each for 2000Riel. After 20mins there you then return and head back to your departure point.
The original bamboo train ‘Norry’ shut down in 2017 as the tracks were required for an actual train to and from Phnom Penh. The bamboo train was so popular with tourists though that it was relocated to just outside the city. It may not be as authentic as it once was but is still a great trip and you get to enjoy some lovely countryside. Don’t forget your hats and suncream though!
2. Sunset at the Batcave
Where – Phnom Sampov/Sampeou, a hill that pokes out of a seemingly endless flat landscape
How much – Free!
About 12km west of Battambang are the bat caves at Phnom Sampov/Sampeou. Whilst you won’t see Bruce Wayne there, this is arguably more impressive. Just as sunset approaches, grab a beer from one of the street stalls near the foot of the cave and sit back and marvel at one of nature’s true wonders.
At first you hear the sound of a few bats stirring, then before you know it, an impressive river of them fly out. For a very long time. We don’t know the official number of bats and have read different estimates but if there are a million in that cave I would not be surprised. The stream of them must go on for about 20-30 minutes and it is truly a magnificent sight.
Phnom Sampov also has an extremely dark side. For USD$1 you can walk up the hill and visit the killing caves. As the name suggests, these caves were used by the Khmer Rouge between 1975-1979 to commit thousands of executions during their reign of terror.
Whilst taking a 6 and 4 year old to killing caves may not seem like an ideal day out, we did unexpectedly enjoy it. From the walk up the hill to the laugh with our tuktuk driver over the pronunciation of ‘goat’. “Go” he kept telling our six year old who burst into fits of laughter thinking it was an instruction. Our tuktuk driver Mr Heng was fantastic in accompanying us as a guide and did his best to translate the history. Whilst very sombre, there were many other local children there visiting the cave. We didn’t feel it necessary or appropriate to go into full detail of what happened there to our girls. For instance, at one point visitors are literally standing at the bottom of a cliff where victims were pushed to their deaths. We did explain to our girls that there were some bad people here many years ago, who have now gone. We emphasised that we visit places like this to remember those people and make sure it never happens again.
If you are to go to the killing caves you’ll need to visit them before heading back down to see the bats at sunset. It’s 700-odd steps up to the killing cave, which are steep in places. Or you can walk the car/bike road access which we did. We noted plenty of offers of ute/vehicles to take you up if you decide on the day you can’t walk it. Either way, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views at the top. And a cold drink/ice-cream if you wish. And maybe a few monkeys along the way too.
3. Ezra Library Café
Where – Street 1.5, Krong Battambang
How Much – Free, for patrons of the café
We stumbled upon the brilliant Ezra library café whilst walking around looking for breakfast. We were on our way to KinYei café, that we had previously visited and thoroughly enjoyed, but the Library Café caught our eye. What a fantastic café in Battambang to bring the kids.
The café itself is quite basic but offers a decent menu. The owners were great with our kids and we had a good chat. What is special about this place though is upstairs.
There’s a whole library of books (as the café name suggests!) and also a children’s playroom with two bookshelves of fully alphabetised library books and puzzles. The playroom isn’t huge but it kept us occupied for almost two hours. We also presumed, due to the careful alphabetisation of the books, that these books could be loaned out. However we didn’t check this with the owner likely as we were leaving the next day.
Whilst we wouldn’t come to Battambang specifically for this library, we are great believers in having ‘chillout days’ wherever we stay. Every town needs a place like this. Somewhere where you can visit if you’re in no hurry, somewhere that the kids enjoy and somewhere where you can relax. A home away from home I suppose.
4. Riverside Playground
Where – Rd No.1, Battambang
How much? – Free
When travelling in Asia, you need to enjoy any playground you can find. They don’t come along as often as they do at home for us. In fact we travelled for three weeks in Vietnam before we found a single playground.
Although the quality of the equipment is different to what you see at home too, the great thing about kids is that they just don’t care. They just want to swing and hang off whatever they can find! Just be mindful of health and safety differences.
Although this playground is basic there is lots to do. It also mixes in with workout apparatus too (which our kids love for some reason!). Not only is it peaceful by the river, it’s also only a 5-minute walk to cafes, restaurants and markets.
5. Tuktuk tour
Where – See below. It’s hard to avoid tuktuks so it won’t be a problem finding one!
How much – Depending on which tuktuk you go with, and for how long it ranges from USD$10-30
The Bamboo train and Bat Caves are absolutely must-sees when in Battambang with kids (or without!). The easiest way to see them (unless you and your family really love riding bikes) is to get a tuktuk. You can get to the Bamboo train or Bat Caves for around USD$5-8 each.
Better still though is to hire a tuktuk driver for a day or half day and let them take you to many more places. We opted for Mr Heng at ‘Visit Battambang‘. He was friendly, approachable, able to speak a good basic level of English and was a considerate and careful driver.
All kids have different tolerances to these day outs and we know that about 5-6 hours is most we can do a tour for. At the start of our adventure we would maybe have set this limit lower but with the right preparation we know the girls can handle this now.
Other options on how to get a tuktuk. Check with your hotel, they may offer one, but don’t feel obliged to go with their one, you are entitled to look elsewhere. Of course you can grab a driver off the street or alternatively go to a tour agency. We simply googled for one to find Mr Heng. The cost was USD$20 for half a day (12pm-6pm) but we gave Mr Heng a $5 tip as he was so excellent.
Our tour included a visit to a swing bridge, a cultural village and we could have gone to a temple but didn’t quite have enough time as we wanted to prioritise the bamboo train and the bat cave. And boy are we sure glad we did!
To summarise, please don’t be put off visiting Battambang with the kids. We are so pleased we travelled the 3ish hours from Siem Reap it took to get there, and would highly recommend a visit if you have the time!