After Siem Reap, Cambodia’s tourist magnet, we wanted to visit a less touristic city, so we decided to move on to Battambang, Cambodia’s fourth largest city and an absolutely ordinary city without any highlights. It was ordinary to such an extent that we did not take our camera even once into the city. That does not mean we hated the city, it was interesting to move around in a city where many Cambodians live and observe their lifestyle. It’s just not very picturesque. Luckily the surrounding area has a few things to offer such as numerous temples, one of only wineries in the country, and most excitingly a large cave system where millions of bats live during the day and fly out to hunt every evening.
The City of Battambang
With a population of around 150’000, Battambang is not a huge city. However, taking into account the whole province, it is more than one million people, and therefore there is always a lot of traffic in and around the city. And as in other countries in this region, the traffic is unorganized and riding a motorbike requires a lot of attention because red traffic lights seem to be only a recommendation here and there are sand patches and pot-holes everywhere. And even when driving carefully, it is not completely without risk, especially at night.
The Caves at Phnom Sampeau near Battambang
For me the main attraction close to Battambang were the caves in Phnom Sampeau, a huge limestone rock in an otherwise flat area of Cambodia. There are several caves at Phnom Sampeau, and while the cave system is by far not as extensive as in Mulu National Park in Borneo, they are still impressive to visit.
Bat Exodus at Bat Caves
Imagine one million bats that get hungry in the evening and all of them exit their caves in which they stay during the day within 60 minutes. If you break this number down to seconds, that’s around 300 bats per second. I have no clue if there only live half a million or several million bats in this cave system, but the following video gives you a good impression of the steady stream of bats that start flying out of their cave at around 17:30. Ilinca and I left after 30 minutes, but a local guide told as that it takes up to one hour for all the bats to leave the cave. The voice in the background is from the Buddhist prayers of a nearby village.
Together with the bats, also an awful smell exits the cave. And as we were standing only about 20 m from the cave exit, we got a good portion of it. But this was secondary, as it is really one of the most amazing spectacles of nature that I have ever seen. And since bats feed on mosquitoes, they contribute a lot to the well-being of the people living in the villages around there.
Massacres at Killing Caves
Some of bat cave’s neighboring caves are known as the Killing Caves, because during the genocide in Cambodia in the late 70’s by the Khmer Rouge regime, the caves were used to dispose of thousands of slaughtered citizens. After executing the victims at the rim of the caves, the bodies were thrown down into the caves. Nowadays, a memorial and a reclining Buddha incl. a glass vitrine of skulls that have been collected from the caves reminds visitors of the cruelties that the Khmer Rouge regime committed. I will write more about the Khmer Rouge regime after my visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital.
Wat Phnom Sampeau
On top of the limestone rock that contains all the caves is a small pagoda. While the pagoda itself was not really that stunning, the location on top of the rock was very beautiful and the numerous monkeys also added to the atmosphere.
I learned once in a wine seminar that the tropical climate is not really ideal for growing grapes and producing wines. That’s why I was very surprised to find a winery close to Battambang. As we were passing there anyway on our way to some temples, we went for a wine tasting.
We had been warned by our guidebook that the wine is not comparable to high quality wines, and I partially have to agree to it after having tried their red wine. However, it is also not undrinkable, and as with every wine, the more you drink, the better it gets.
I was briefly thinking about buying one bottle as a souvenir and for drinking later on the trip, but at a price of $15 per bottle, the wine was definitely not worth it. In Europe, such a wine would cost at most $5.
Some more Temples
During our day outside Battambang we also visited a few lovely temples. But after having been to Angkor Wat, none of those temples were really impressing to us. Maybe we should have ended our visit to Cambodia at Angkor Wat, and not start it there…
Next Stop: Phnom Penh
Two days in Battambang are really enough. We think we have seen everything that there is to see around here, so we are looking forward to moving on to Phnom Penh.