Battambang, Cambodia’s second largest city, lies in the heart of the Northwest and until the war years, was the leading rice-producing province of the country. Battambang did not give way to the Khmer Rouge movement until after the fall of Phnom Penh, but it’s been at the center of the ongoing 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 3 man based in Pailin), Battambang was the centre for the Khmer Rouge in the region. Earlier history saw Battambang flip-flopping back and forth between Thailand (called Siam before their 20th-century renaming) and Cambodia.
Battambang is the main hub of the Northwest connecting the entire region with Phnom Penh and Thailand, and as such it’s a vital link for Cambodia. The city is a peaceful and picturesque place these days; its main parts are situated closed to the Sangker River, a tranquil, small body of water that winds its way through Battambang Province.
Battambang has an unusual form of transport known locally as a “Norrie” (or nori or nory), which is a train made of bamboo – or, specifically, a bamboo platform positioned on 2 sets of bogies with a small motor stuck on the back. A wooden stick serves as brake and accelerator. There’s a mat laid on the wooden platform and the ‘deluxe’ versions come with cushions (tuk tuk drivers may let you use the tuk tuk cushions) – and passengers sit cross-legged on the mat.
When the road to Phnom Penh was upgraded, making it a 5-hour drive, the 12-hour (on a good day) train services more or less ceased operating but locals continued to use the existing tracks as a means of accessing Battambang and its markets from outlying villages. Locals quickly caught on that they had an excellent, ready-made tourist attraction, but as previously mentioned, the Norrie did begin life as a legitimate form of local transport and plenty of villagers do still use it.
Tourists tend to favor early morning and late afternoon departures when it’s not so hot as the trains have no roof. Late afternoon can get very busy in high season. Rides usually take you to the first ‘station’ down the line where drinks and t-shirt vendors await or perhaps to a strategically located bridge for watching the sunset over the rice fields.
Your ride will take 10 minutes or so each way and drivers are happy to wait for you in return for a dollar tip. The line heads southeast out of town so you more or less have to do the return trip since there’s not anything to combine it with. The train may look like an accident waiting to happen but we must have done it over 30 times without seeing any incidents – having said that and while it’s not as bad as it looks, it’s still a good idea to ask them to drive slowly!
There are definite plans to upgrade the old railway line eventually to link Phnom Penh to Bangkok but at this time, the bamboo train is still operating. Since the old line to Kampot has been upgraded, there are, to our knowledge, no other bamboo trains as tourist attractions in Cambodia.
The trains are limited to a maximum of four passengers and currently charge $5 per person.
Barseat Temple was built during the reign of King, Soriyak Varman I (1002-1050) and is located on a hill at Ba Set village, Ta Pun commune – 15 kilometers from the Battambang. Ba Set temple adapts the architecture of the 11th century and was built between 1036 and 1042. Next to the temple, there is a pond, which is 20 meters long and 10 meters deep and is never dry.
Wat Ek Temple
Wat Ek Temple adapts the architecture of the 11th century and was built in 1027 during the reign of King, Sorayak Varman I (1002-1050). It is located at Piem Ek commune 14 kilometers from the provincial town.
Ba Nan Temple
Ba Nan Temple Adapts the architecture of mid 11th century and the end of 12th century the temple was first built by King, Ut Tak Yea Tit Tya Varman II (1050-1066) and was built finally built by the king, Jarvarman VII (1181-1219). The temple is located on the top of a mountain, which is approximately 400 meters high. At the mountain’s valley, there are Ku Teuk and two main natural wells – Bit Meas and Chhung or Chhung Achey.
Characterised as 3 separated stupas made of brick, located on a hill 30 meters high in Snung commune, 22 kilometers from the provincial town. According to the style at the gate, the temple is similar to other temples that were built in the 12th century.