The north-western province of Battambang is often claimed to be the most beautiful of all Cambodian provinces. It is also the rice bowl of the country. In the fading evening light, the sight of endless fields of young rice dotted with sugar palms and the occasional limestone karsts jutting out of the earth make it a photographer’s dream.
A gigantic statue of Ta Dambang Kra Nhung is on the roundabout at the south entrance to the city. This powerful neak ta, or spirit, is the guardian of the town and gives the town its name. Battambang translates to “forest of the lost staff (stick)” and relates to a legend surrounding how the town was named. The legend tells of a forester who picked up a branch to use as a utensil but when he mixed his rice, it became black. As he was hungry he decided to eat it and afterwards felt full of power. He was able to break a branch of Cheutal and he then cut the trunk of a Kranhoung, a tree whose wood is deemed as hard as iron. He made a weapon from this wood which won him the nickname of Dambang Kranhoung (Kranhoung stick). He then formed an army and captured the throne. Seven years later he had to fight a son of the former Royal family who had returned. King Dambang Kranhoung threw his stick but missed his target. The stick landed in a vast secluded forest which is still called ‘Bat Dambang ‘Battambang’, the forest of the “lost stick”.
The Banan temple just 25 kilometres south of the town is a fine example of 11th and 12th century Khmer architecture, and as with Angkor Wat, the great Khmer King Jayavarmin VII played a key role in the construction of this enchanting temple, which some people have called a miniature Angkor Wat due to its similar five-tower structure.
Battambang was a branching-off point for several former Khmer Rouge strongholds, including Pailin municipality to the west. It also features a number of ancient temples and holy sites, including the striking Phnom Sampov temple on the road to Pailin, which is set on a limestone mountain. This picturesque temple is both a place of worship and a shrine, as the Khmer Rouge once used its underground caves as a killing field.
Battambang is one of the provinces included in the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve and the famous Prek Toal bird sanctuary is located in Battambang and is home to thousands of birds. Proceeds from visits help to support the more than 20 former poachers who now stand guard over their former prey.
Battambang town offers up to 4-star accommodation, and in the evening visitors can join the locals on the riverfront, sipping a Cambodian milkshake, or tuk-a-loc. Drinking snacks can be unusual; dried field snake or even puffer fish with a beverage while relaxing in the sleepy, second largest city of Cambodia, which has become a favourite with travellers looking for a more laid-back alternative to Siem Reap or Phnom Penh and boasts a variety of Western-orientated bars and restaurants. French colonial architecture can still be found throughout the city. Recognising the tourism potential these buildings can bring, many owners are choosing to renovate rather than build new.
Paddy rice, corn, cassava, oranges, pineapples, grapefruits, cotton
The province is included in the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve and is 75% jungles and mountains with a tropical climate.
Wat Ek Phnum is a partly collapsed 11th-century temple situated 11 km north of Battambang. The temple measures 52m by 49m and is surrounded by the remains of a laterite wall and an ancient baray (reservoir). A lintel depicting the Churning of the Ocean of Milk is situated above the east entrance to the central temple, the upper flanks of which hold some finely carved bas-reliefs. Wat Ek Phnum is a very popular picnic and pilgrimage destination for Khmers at festival times.
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