Battambang is located between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, and though often skipped over by foreign visitors, it looms large in the hearts of Cambodians. Spend a few days in Battambang and you’ll understand why it’s their most beloved city.
For hundreds of years, Battambang has been the cultural center of Cambodia. This is clear from the many temples that dot the streets, the peaks of their pagodas pointing up between the palm trees. Mornings are filled with the sounds of temple bells and Buddhist chants as the mist clears over the bright green rice fields. Parades of orange-cloaked monks move through the streets in the soft dawn light, collecting alms and offering blessings. Women spread out blankets on the streets as the city comes to life, laying out their fruits and vegetables, preparing for a day in the markets.
Songs from the 1960s sang sweet odes to Battambang’s verdant rice fields and beautiful people, but this culture of peace was nearly destroyed in the 1970s and ’80s. The Khmer Rouge swept through the city and systematically killed the teachers, artists, writers, and musicians. Everyone else was forced to leave, with many fleeing to Thailand where they lived as refugees for decades. Battambang sat empty and forgotten, its temples filled only with ghosts. But when the war finally ended and the Cambodian refugees returned, they created schools and nonprofits as social organizations determined to repair what was broken and rebuild their cultural heritage.
It is these organizations, born from the dust of the genocide, that lead the sustainable tourism movement in Battambang today. They are creating a city where travelers can immerse themselves in local culture and discover what life is really like in Cambodia without being exploitative. With the help of these social enterprises, you can share authentic experiences that are helping to lift up the locals of Battambang. Here are a few of the sustainable, culturally responsible experiences you can partake in.