Battambang is Cambodia’s second-largest city and the capital of Battambang Province, which was founded in the 11th century. It is the former capital of Monton Kmer and lies in the heart of the Northwest of Cambodia. Until the war years, in which almost every infrastructure was destructed it was the leading rice-producing province of the country.
The name Battambang or Batdambang, literally means “loss of stick” referring to a legend of the Preah Bat Dambang Kranhoung (Kranhoung Stick King). The population is nowadays around 250,000 people. It’s a riverside town, home to some of the best-preserved, French colonial architecture in the country.
Until recently Battambang was off the map for road travelers, but facilities have recently been improved and it makes a great base for visiting the nearby temples, such as Phnom Banon and Wat Ek Phnom, as well as the closed by villages.
It’s a secondary hub on the overland route between Thailand and Vietnam, and if the National Highway No 6 from Poipet to Siem Reap is ever upgraded it'll become an even smaller hub. The network of charming old French shop houses clustered along the riverbank is the real highlight here, and there is a number of Wats scattered around the town.
The small museum has a collection of Angkorian-era artifacts, and beyond the town there are a number of hilltop temples, yet more Wats and a pretty large lake. One of the more famous hills is Phnom Sampeau (Ship Hill) with the notorious killing caves.
Battambang did not give way to the Khmer Rouge movement after the fall of Phnom Penh, but it has been in the centre of the ongoing government Khmer Rouge conflict ever since the Vietnamese invasion in 1979 pushed the genocidal regime out of Phnom Penh and to the Northwest. Until the surrender deal of Ieng Sary (Khmer Rouge number three man based in Pailin), Battambang was the Khmer Rouge stronghold in the region.
In the earlier history Battambang flip-flopped back and forth between Thailand (called Siam before their 20th-century renaming) and Cambodia. It has been a part of Thailand most of the time since the 15th century, with Cambodia regaining control (more specifically due the French) in 1907. The Thais grabbed it again, with Japanese assistance, in 1941 and kept the region in their camp until the World War II years in 1947.
The Allied Forces helped persuade the Thais that the region was originally part of ancient Cambodia and the world community would not take kindly to the Thais holding onto it further. Like the rest of the Northwest, there is still a lot of Thai influence apparent. The main currency is still the Thai Baht and many people are able to converse in Thai. But the area is very Khmer, with ancient Khmer ruins scattered around, and even the ways of life are much more similar to the rest of Cambodia than to Thailand.
Battambang city is a peaceful and pleasant place these days. The main parts of the city are situated closed to the Sangker River, a tranquil, small body of water that winds its way through Battambang Province. It is a nice, picturesque setting. As with much of Cambodia, the French architecture is an attractive bonus of the city.