Bats, Tracks and Lok Lak in Battambang

Editor’s Note: Check out the adventures of Mel & Alex in Battambang below! Bats, tracks, and lok lak! All content and photos are from the contributor.

Follow Mel & Alex on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Or read about their adventures at their blog.


It’s said when you meet someone you only have 7 seconds to make an impression, and we’ve found the same to be true to an extent of the places we’ve visited. Cambodia impressed as soon as we cross the border, thanks to the friendly immigration officer at Phsar Prum who sat with us until a taxi became available, chatted with us about Khmer history and treated us to a beer. So it was with high hopes we arrived in Battambang, 100km East of the border, for our first sample of Cambodian hospitality.

We had booked a couple of nights at Shang Hai Guesthouse at just $5 a night, and as a result we were expecting $5 worth of comfort. Instead we were treated to complimentary water, toiletries and a TV, in a clean, spacious en suite room. We were chuffed and immediately booked a third night, and later on a fourth.

We spent a few days just soaking up our first taste of Cambodian culture and making plans for the rest of our adventure. Whilst Battambang is in fact the country’s second most populous area (after Phnom Penh), you wouldn’t guess it. Not a major stop for most visitors, it’s blissfully untouched by the influence of tourism and high-rise development, subsequently retaining charm by the bucketload.

Heading out to explore, we found the atmosphere was wildly different to that of many other towns we have visited on our travels. Say goodbye to the pushy sales tactics of Tuk Tuk drivers and stall owners. There’s a friendly, community vibe; adults are quick to smile at you, while children give a big wave and English “hello!”.

With a walking tour route in the excellent free Battambang Traveller magazine, we spent an afternoon getting to know our surroundings. From Street 101 we headed South-East, discovering pretty Wat Pipetharam and bustling Psar Nath market, selling all manner of clothes, fresh food and baked goods (look out for the donuts!). Continuing along Sangker River before cutting down sleepy lanes and alleyways, we found 2 1/2 Street with its shop houses and restaurants, many of which still retain their original French Colonial architecture. Journey further still and you’ll uncover disused, but nonetheless interesting art deco cinemas, and the grand old Lord Governor’s Residence, Sala Khaet. All of these sights, and more between, give Battambang a warm, unspoilt character that had us captivated.

Working up an appetite, our first taste of Khmer cuisine was well overdue. On the first night we had played it safe, with a gorgeous Mango and Cashew Nut Salad and Burger and Chips at The Lonely Tree, which along with many of the restaurants in Battambang work with NGOs to get young, vulnerable people off of the street and into a trade. This time we enjoyed a delicious Noodle Soup and Lok Lak, consisting of marinated meat accompanied by rice, served with lime and black Kampot Pepper. A very high standard had been set! There are plenty of expat-owned eateries to cater to Western tastes, along with local success stories, including a student who has set up a very successful Khmer Noodle Stall between the market and the river, selling the most amazing beef stew.

The food is a little more expensive than its street food counterpart in Thailand, but that is more than evened out by the price of accommodation. Beers are dirt cheap (cheaper than coke or even water in some instances!) and any hour is happy hour somewhere in Battambang. We were also intrigued by the 50 cent rice wine at Buffalo Alley, but less so by the variants flavoured with Tarantulas and Snakes!

While it’s easy to get caught up by the delicious restaurants and dangerously affordable bars, there is also plenty to see and do in the surrounding area, so we hired a Tuk Tuk and driver for the day for $20. Olah the driver was very friendly with great English, and was keen to share his knowledge. He suggested we head to one of the temples via some local villages, so we could meet the locals and learn about their trades.

First up we visited a family who mould huge clay pots for local families and businesses. They can hold up to 900 litres of rainwater and typically sell for just $25-35. They had a well rehearsed strategy which enabled them to work on three pots at a time, before moving the pots into the sun for the clay to set. Next Olah stopped at a temple, and called us over to try bamboo sticks containing sticky rice from a vendor outside. They showed us how they cooked the rice with coconut milk and soy beans in a hollow stick of bamboo. The vendor then shaved off the burnt strips of bamboo and used them as kindling for the fire, and showed us how to crack into the tube and to use a square of bamboo as a spoon. The rice was simple; slightly sweet and wholesome and it was fascinating to see the resourceful production, with noting going to waste.

The sampling of typical Khmer snacks didn’t end there. Olah took us to visit two ladies cooking and drying rice pancakes in the sun, which made a deliciously crispy spring roll once fried. Similarly, our next stop was to meet a woman who sliced bananas into thin strips, placing them on bamboo stretchers and dried them in the heat of the sun. The end product was fantasticly sweet and sticky, yet crispy snack. They were so good we ended up buying another packet to take on the road!

Our taste of Khmer village life complete, we made our way to Ek Phnom temple, built in the 11th century. There are several ancient temples in the vicinity of Battambang, Wat Ek Phnom and Wat Banan the more frequently visited. Judging from the photos we saw of the latter, if you are looking to check one of them out you may be better off going there, as Ek Phnom is more of a ruin than a pristine example of a Hindu religious building. While once it surely stood tall and imposing, these days there is far more rubble than there actually is temple, and it is difficult to gauge what it was like in its heyday.

Bamboo is used for far more than just cooking in Cambodia, and after lunch we headed to take a ride on the prolific Bamboo Train. The route starts about 3.7km East of Battambang, and the track runs 7km to O Sra Lav, with the train (or ‘norry’) powered along by a 6HP gasoline engine. We weren’t sure what to expect, as some people seemed to love it, while others worried they’d be thrown from the cart! Admittedly it’s a pretty rickety ‘norry’ of bamboo you sit on, but we figured if it can carry huge mounds of goods back and forth it should just about hold us.

With a couple of pillows to sit on we climbed aboard and were on our way. Being so close to the ground you felt every bump, and we were glad for the pillows to spare us bruises, and admittedly some of the track had clearly seen a lot of use. Still, it was hardly the death-defying trip some of the reviews made it out to be and we felt quite safe, if a little uncomfortable. One issue did become apparent on route; two way traffic on one set of rails. While our (over-elaborate, it seems now) trains back home would become completely unstuck by this, the driver simply cut the engine, asked us to get off and lifted the bamboo norry, then wheels straight off the track so his colleagues could chug through. At the end of the track are a couple of stalls and restaurants set up by local villagers where you can stop in for a drink, or purchase all kinds of souvenirs before boarding for the return trip.

The friendliness of the local people, and the light-hearted nature of many tourist activities, sometimes feels at odds with tragic recent events in Cambodia, as much here as elsewhere. We feel it would be remiss of us to visit a place and not seek to gain an understanding about its history, especially during the Khmer Rouge period, not least out of respect for those who had to suffer through it. Indeed, with some sources quoting numbers as high as three million people murdered at the hands of Pol Pot’s regime, its nigh on impossible to avoid evidence of the barbaric atrocities which took place.

During our day trip Olah stopped off at Samroung Knong temple, where 10,000 people from the Battambang area were imprisoned and eventually killed. He also took us to Phnom Sampeau, otherwise known as the Killing Caves. Peering into depths where thousands of people were thrown to their deaths, and seeing the skulls they have managed to recover is a harrowing experience. There is a chilling stillness in the air, as if nothing has dared to live in the cave since, and equally heartbreaking is the matter of fact way people have come to describe the atrocities inflicted on them, their parents and grandparents. This would not be the last example we saw of the horrors of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

Phnom Sampeau was also our destination for sunset. Home to an alleged 6.5 million Wrinkle Lipped Bats, tourists arrive en masse to witness their nightly evacuation of the hill’s innards. We perched beneath one of the caves with a drink and waited. After about half an hour, triggered by a cue unseen by us, the bats made their move as a massive unit. Within seconds, there were thousands heading off into the distance in perfect plume, as far as the eye could see. They just kept coming and coming, and while initially we may have been skeptical about there being so many bats in one place, by the time we left, when there was still a steady stream of exiting bats, we were convinced. They head to the local fields and farms to feed on small insects, and then back to the caves before morning. It was a spectacular sight and a brilliant end to our tour.

We packed a huge amount into our day with Olah, alternating between exhilarating, enlightening and horrifying. But it only goes to show how much there is to discover in Battambang. We departed after staying twice as long as intended, having been struck by how humble, generous and welcoming the Khmer people are. What an excellent first impression of this beautiful country.

Mondulkiri: A wildlife experience

Editor’s note: Below is another adventure submitted to us by Paola Vega (she’s on Instagram, too!), documenting her adventure in Mondulkiri. Follow

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The eastern region of Cambodia is a place unknown to many. Yet becoming more and more popular. Mondulkiri province is now an upcoming backpackers’ destination full of wildlife and nature.

I took a mini-van from Phnom Penh directly to the town of Sem Monorom. I then walked to the office of an Elephant Sanctuary that I contacted prior my arrival. My intended purpose of coming here was to volunteer a few days and this place offered a great deal.

The first night I had to spend it at a really nice hotel called Nature Lodge. Completely immersed in the essence of the region; wide open green spaces, beautiful sunsets and clear night skies. The next day the “Mondulkiri Elephant and Wildlife Sanctuary” welcomed me with their arms open. The first two days I followed them on their trekking and elephant tour just to get to know the whole organization better and to grasp their essence. After, I spent three days helping at the sanctuary with various projects.

The place is a real paradise for the elephants, they have a massive land where they can roam freely, and the best part is: they are not chained or ridden on. They really take care of them at the sanctuary. The visitors have the chance to feed them and then bathe them. And if you do the two-day program you even get to sleep one night at the sanctuary in a nice jungle-hut. A really unique experience.

Also, the jungle trek is a great way to see more of this beautiful region. There are many waterfalls and plantations around worth seeing. And at the end of the day, you feel so accomplished for walking 20k up and down hills.

I had a great time during my stay in Mondulkiri and I will recommend it to anyone who’s in Cambodia. If you are a nature and animal lover this place is for you!

Things to do in Kampot for 3-day trip

Editor’s note: Below is another article by our favorite traveler, Langda! Check out his recount of his camping experience and suggested things to do in Kampot below.


People say “Work hard and play hard”, and this quote has become one of my favorites. After spending most effort achieving things at work, I rewarded myself with a camping experience at Kampot for 3 days 2 nights along with Small World team and several other new friends. I was inspired by natural and recreational places and activities there and think it would be useful to share my experience of things to do in Kampot, specially to workaholic travelers who are staying in Cambodia and making a plan to escape from Phnom Penh during the weekend. With this article you will learn how to go to Kampot, the things you can do there, and how much budget you should prepare for.

Boat in Trapang Sangke Community
Boat in Trapang Sangke Community

How to go to Kampot from Phnom Penh?

Kampot province is not far from the city. It just takes about 3 hours from Phnom Penh city, which is just a few nap takings to me. We rent a minibus which can put up to 25 people with a professional driver included. The price is about 270$ for our case (3 days and 2 nights). In case, you do not have that much of people, a couple or a group of 5 people, you might consider taking a minivan which is very affordable, between USD 7.00 and 8.00, which you can book online here

This is the mini bus that we rent. And it was taken inside the Wat Sampov Pram.
This is the mini bus that we rent. And it was taken inside the Wat Sampov Pram.

First thing to do in Kampot

Our first place to visit was Bokor mountain, formerly known as French colonial hill station resort then a site of a royal home for summer vacation. You can also reach the top of mountain by motor. Besides getting fresh air and catching cloud (fog) experience on the mountain, there are 5-star hotel and casino, Thansur Bokor Highland Resort, there to enjoy. One of the best spot view you should not miss there is to visit Wat Sampov Pram, five (pram in Khmer) rocks represent the ship (sampov).

The picture of the rocks you will see at first when you enter the temple
The picture of the rocks you will see at first when you enter the temple

From the entrance of the temple, keep walking to the right direction, from there you find a spot which is a bit dangerous there since there is no holder protection when you come close to the top; yet it is worth going there because you are able to see the beauty of the green forest in full HD. There are more things to do in Kampot’s Bokor mountain actually.

kampot bus on bokor mountain beautiful spot
Me in that dangerous but stunning spot I mentioned 🙂

Sleeping in a tent at Kdark La Tente is one of things to do in Kampot

Next, we headed to our booked accommodation, Kdark La Tente, which is one of the best options I would recommend for a camping experience in Kampot, only if you are not a fan of staying at a fancy guesthouse or hotel. It is just 21km from the town. Personally speaking, I think in order best enjoy the trip in such a beautiful paradise like Kampot is to sleep in a tent and experience the following activities wake up and see the beach while brushing your teeth, play football in an open area, catch the shrimp at night, and openly share your impression to the other fellows around the bonfire at midnight. You are allowed to do all of these things at Kdark La Tente, and it costs only USD 5.00 per person per night. The tent itself can stay up to 3 or 4 (4 people for the big one) people. For reservation, I strongly advise you book ahead for such a demanded place via their Facebook page here.

Kampot Kdark La Tente Bon Fire
The tent, bonfire area and me with the ball
One of things to do in Kampot is to sleep in a tente
Shoot from the kitchen angle right after my breakfast

Visiting Mangrove Community is one of the things to do in Kampot

This is probably one of the must do things in Kampot. For day 2, we went to visit Mangrove Lodge called Trapang Sangke Community. From this visit, we have learned how mangrove life is being threatened by deforestation practiced by rich and powerful people according to the chief of the community. And this has affected the life of the fishermen there which forced them to leave their home for Thailand and Vietnam for better living. Thus, this community is created with the purpose of raising awareness of how important mangrove is to both people and underwater life.

Chief community was sharing about mangrove protection
Chief community was sharing about mangrove protection

After the sharing session, we were given a chance to experience growing mangrove by ourselves. To do that, we need to buy young mangrove tree which costs 1$ per tree. Also a boat rental, USD 15.00 including return, is needed to go to a growing area. These are provided by the community.

The boat that is to take us to the planting area
The boat that is to take us to the planting area
One of things to do in Kampot is to plant mangrove trees
Mangrove planting activity

After mangrove planting activities, we crazily threw away dump to one another like in a gun war.

Most exciting place to do in Kampot

After finishing our lunch at the community, we then headed to the Arcadia water park, a place that allow you to best enjoy swimming in Kampot river with the trilled tube and more. These activities should not be missed from your things to do in Kampot. To play those toys, we need to pay USD 5.00 each. Life jacket is provided. And there are 4 different kinds of you-have-the-guts activities such as blob & rope swing, water slide, pontoon and Russian swing. Is there any other things to do in Kampot?

The photo of the 4 thrilled activities in Acardia water park. Source is from TripAdvisor’s users.
The photo of the 4 thrilled activities in Acardia water park. Source is from TripAdvisor’s users.

Experiencing Kayak and Paddle boat in Kampot

This is the most popular to do thing in Kampot that you should not miss. The last but not least of our Day 2 was to see the sunset while kayaking. We visited Bopha Prey Guest House, which is located on the other side of the river (Acardia’s). This is a good place as  starting point for kayaking around the river there. We rent a canoe kayak while some might prefer paddle boat and drive along the river. Each costs USD 5.00/hour. Besides sea foods, this restaurant also serves finger foods at an affordable price. This was the exhausting day for me because of heavily swimming and kayaking.

Bopha Prey Guesthouse
Bopha Prey Guesthouse

Try out Zipline across Kampot River

On the third day, which was the day we have to back to Phnom Penh city, we visited River Park, to enjoy experiencing zip lining across the river. It costs USD 6.00 per person. To be honest, I was not impressed by this because the distance of the line is too short for me to notice the best view of the river.

Kampot River Park Zipline starting point
Kampot River Park’s Zipline starting point

Visiting Kampot Pepper Farm

After that we ended up our trip by visiting Sothy’s pepper farm and having lunch there before leaving Kampot for Phnom Penh. From the farm, we got to see and learn the process from growing, harvesting, and packaging Kampot pepper. During such a hot weather I enjoyed drinking coconut there a lot. Also, the better part is to eat fried crab with Kampot pepper.

The entrance of Sothy’s pepper farm
The entrance of Sothy’s pepper farm
The process of picking different types of pepper (grey, red, black, and white)
The process of picking different types of pepper (grey, red, black, and white)

Finally, I hope you enjoy reading this article and find it useful to make decision on your trip of what to do in Kampot either for your holiday or a quick escape from the Phnom Penh city at your weekend. Stay tuned for our more articles of other things to do in Kampot.

Read more of places you can go after Kampot:

Phnom Penh to Koh Rong Samloem

Editor’s note: Below is another article by our favorite traveler, Hugo! Check out his recount of his adventure from Phnom Penh to Koh Rong Samloem below.


I am living in Phnom Penh since 6 month now and I try to leave the capital at least once every two weeks to take some fresh air, this time: direction Koh Rong Samloem! Thus, with my friends, we left Phnom Penh with a night bus and arrived in Sihanoukville early morning. That was the 4th time I was going there, as this is really close to Phnom Penh, however I still don’t really like Sihanoukville. This city is for me neither nice nor beautiful, this is just the only way to reach the islands that are great, this is why I am not staying there, even for a night!

Once arrived we took a Angkor Speed Ferry boat with BookMeBus, the only boat company I never experienced, and it is definitely the best company to go the islands! They were exactly on time, their staff is really nice, they give you fresh water, boats are new; they have a great and clean open-rooftop, toilets and brand new life jackets for everyone. Furthermore I learned that they are the only one allowed to stop at Long Set Beach in Koh Rong, which can be really useful for those that wants to arrive directly there.

With my friends we arrived in Koh Rong Samloem and we booked at Freedom Island Bungalow for one night. Those bungalows are cheaper than many other in Saracen Beach (between 25-30USD) and are really great, big beds, clean bathroom and a nice terrace to chill with a drink at the end of the day. Those bungalows are located on the right part of the beach, so you don’t have the fits in the white sand, but place is quiet and not crowdie at all. Therefore I recommend those bungalows for people that want calm, clean and cheap place and don’t care that much on walking 3 minutes to reach the big Saracen Beach.

First day, we went to Sunset Beach on the west side of Koh Rong Samloem. To go there you need to take a tiny path that cross over the jungle and you arrived in this beach with transparent water & you are almost alone, what asking for more? After an afternoon spent there, we came back to our bungalow and spend a night drinking mojitos and playing cards, such a great time when your daily life takes place in Phnom Penh.

The second day, we had to leave our incredible bungalow because they were full… We finally ended up in the Hostel by the Sea, the worst hostel I ever experienced in Cambodia… You pay 10 USD for one bed in dorm, you have only one fan for 4 beds, a small disgusting blanket and I am not sure they ever cleaned the sheets… Showers? Can we call that a shower? I am not sure… They are located on the middle of their garbage and it’s just a narrow trickle of smelly and disgusting water not available all day… Finally, after seeing their kitchen, eating there is something you should avoid. I am used to go to hostel and guesthouses and I am never looking for high standard as I always go for the 3-6 USD dorms, but when you pay 10USD for a dorm, at least you want a fan and a proper shower, even more on the sea side. However, as everything was booked we had to stay there.

We left quickly Saracen Beach (which is a bit too big for me), to reach Lighthouse at the south of the island, the walk is a bit more that 1h but is really great and once you arrived you can reach an amazing beach where no one goes, we stayed there playing cards, fishing crabs, reading, incredible! I warmly recommend you to go there, but be careful there is nothing to eat there, we bought some water in the houses nearby but you can’t find anything else.

We finally end up this amazing weekend by a beach BBQ, costly (8USD) but really great! We came back with the same company, Angkor Speed Ferry and reached Sihanoukville, our weekend was really great and I will definitely go back to Koh Rong Samloem!

Hugo