Girls ride scooters past old French Colonial buildings in Battambang, the capital of Battambang Province and second largest city in Cambodia. Getty Images
Girls ride scooters past old French Colonial buildings in Battambang, the capital of Battambang Province and second largest city in Cambodia. Getty Images

Cambodia's second city Battambang has become a cultural destination



Why Battambang?

A 2.5-hour drive from Siem Reap and five hours from the capital Phnom Penh, Battambang in north-west Cambodia is the second most-populated city, yet, laid-back and unpretentious, it feels like a country town. And that’s its charm. Straddling the coffee-coloured Sanker River, its dusty streets are lined with French-colonial edifices, its surrounding villages dotted with traditional, stilted, timber houses, while its forests conceal crumbling Khmer Empire ruins.

Until recently, Battambang was little more than a stopover on overland journeys between Bangkok and Phnom Penh. Visitors did little more than ride the exhilarating bamboo “train”, a gasoline-engined platform that hurtles through lush rice paddies along abandoned railway tracks. Now, after a flurry of restaurant, cafe and gallery openings, visitors dine at stylish eateries, attend art shows and take in experimental music.

A comfortable bed

Battambang’s best hotels are near the riverbank and in villages on its outskirts, 10 minutes by tuk tuk from the centre.

In the tranquil, riverside Wat Kor village, Khmer-style wooden houses at Maisons Wat Kor (www.maisonswatkor.com; 00855 98 555 377), which overlook a lotus pond and swimming pool, have high-ceilinged rooms with polished floorboards from US$78 (Dh286). The terrace restaurant serves the city's finest Cambodian cuisine.

Nearby, Battambang Resort (www.battambangresort.com; 00855 53 666 7001), set among emerald rice paddies, has minimalist rooms from $55 (Dh202), looking over a small lake. Activities include evening street-food tours ($13 [Dh48] per couple) and morning bike rides to breakfast soup stalls.

In the centre, with an inviting swimming pool and superb restaurant, Bambu Hotel (www.bambuhotel.com; 00 855 53 953 900) has spacious rooms decorated with silk textiles from $70 (Dh257) in a colonial-style villa and Khmer-inspired buildings.

Find your feet

Easily explored on foot, Battambang's compact, charming old centre boasts glittering pagodas, an incense-filled Chinese temple, 1960s modernist buildings and elegant French-colonial mansions like the grand 1907 Governor's Residence. Print out Khmer Architecture Tours' (www.ka-tours.org) self-guided walking map.

You'll have to hire a tuk tuk or bicycle to explore Battambang's villages. A three-hour tour ($25 [Dh92]) with Battambang Bike (www.thebattambangbike.com) visits an atmospheric, century-old Khmer house. Maisons Wat Kor and Bambu Hotel can arrange countryside tuk tuk tours (from $15 [Dh55]) to artisanal workshops where families make rice noodles and incense; 11th-century Angkorian temple ruins, such as the hilltop Wat Banan (lovely at sunrise) and the ramshackle Wat Ek Phnom; and Mount Sampeau (best at sunset), the site of the Killing Caves, a memorial filled with the bones of victims of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, where millions of bats fly at dusk.

Backyard Travel (www.backyardtravel.com) offers a three-day private Battambang tour covering most activities above, including transfers from Siem Reap, hotels and meals, for $439 (Dh1,612) per person for two people.

Meet the locals

Slurp a bowl of soup at a street-food stall at the central Phsar Nat market or the main Phsar Boeung Chhoeuk market. Stroll the grounds of the pagodas to meet a monk – most are keen to practise their English. In the late afternoon, locals participate in mass dancercise classes on the riverside – you’re welcome to join in.

Book a table

Kick-start your day with Cambodia's best coffee at Kinyei Café (www.kinyei.org; Street 1½; 00855 17 860 003), where the 2013 Cambodian barista champion Sakana Long makes her award-winning Cambodian Cappuccino with palm sugar, pineapple syrup and coconut milk ($2.50 [Dh9]). Follow that with French crepes at the bohemian Cafe Eden (www.cafeedencambodia.com; 85 Street 1; 00855 53 731 525), which has antique tiles and balcony seats upstairs.

For lunch, a local favourite is the no-frills Lan Chov Khorko Miteanh (145 Street 2), or “Chinese Noodle”, for homemade dumplings and hand-pulled noodles ($1.50 [Dhs6]), while the sleek newcomer Lotus (Street 2½; 00855 92 260 158) has a Culinary Institute of America chef cooking up scrumptious burgers and salt-and-pepper calamari. Upstairs, a gallery hosts art-film screenings, DJs and experimental sound nights.

Try the stylish new Jaan Bai (www.cambodianchildrenstrust.org; Street 2; 00855 7 826 3144) for dinner (around $30 [Dh110] for two), in a refurbished colonial building with murals by local artists. The menu focuses on local, organic, seasonal produce, Cambodian specialities like Kampot pepper crab and pan-Asian favourites, including Thai dishes by the celebrated chef David Thompson of Nahm Bangkok, who's an adviser to this hospitality training restaurant.

Shopper’s paradise

Phsar Nat market has handmade baskets and colourful cotton kramas (scarves), a quintessentially Khmer souvenir. The boho-chic boutique Jewel in the Lotus (Street 2½) sells locally made gifts, including handmade soaps, incense, textiles, retro postcards and music from Cambodia's 1960s "Golden Age". An emerging art destination, Battambang has several galleries on Street 2½ run by local artists, including Make Maek and Sammaki Gallery (www.facebook.com/­sammakibtb).

What to avoid

Exploring Battambang in the middle of the day during the hottest months (March and April). Save the sightseeing for mornings and late afternoons.

Don’t miss

A night at the circus. Battambang is home to Cambodia's largest performing arts school, Phare Ponleu Selpak (www.phareps.org; 00855 77 554 413), which trains disadvantaged children in visual arts, music, theatre and circus skills. Visit during the day (8 to 11am and 2 to 4pm) for a behind-the-scenes look, then watch the distinctly Cambodian Cirque du Soleil-style circus under the big top at 7pm.

Getting there

Etihad (www.etihad.com) flies direct from Abu Dhabi to Bangkok from Dh2,460 return, including taxes (journey time is about six hours). From there, fly to Siem Reap (one hour) on Cambodian Angkor Air (www.cambodiaangkorair.com), from $200 (Dh735) return, including taxes. A driver with car to Battambang costs $35 (Dh128).

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Director: Nag Ashwin

Starring: Prabhas, Saswata Chatterjee, Deepika Padukone, Amitabh Bachchan, Shobhana

Rating: ★★★★

FIGHT CARD

Welterweight Mostafa Radi (PAL) v Tohir Zhuraev (TJK)

Catchweight 75kg Leandro Martins (BRA) v Anas Siraj Mounir (MAR)

Flyweight Corinne Laframboise (CAN) v Manon Fiorot (FRA)

Featherweight Ahmed Al Darmaki (UAE) v Bogdan Kirilenko (UZB)

Lightweight Izzedine Al Derabani (JOR) v Atabek Abdimitalipov (KYG)

Featherweight Yousef Al Housani (UAE) v Mohamed Arsharq Ali (SLA)

Catchweight 69kg Jung Han-gook (KOR) v Elias Boudegzdame (ALG)

Catchweight 71kg Usman Nurmagomedov (RUS) v Jerry Kvarnstrom (FIN)

Featherweight title Lee Do-gyeom (KOR) v Alexandru Chitoran (ROU)

Lightweight title Bruno Machado (BRA) v Mike Santiago (USA)

If you go

  • The nearest international airport to the start of the Chuysky Trakt is in Novosibirsk. Emirates (www.emirates.com) offer codeshare flights with S7 Airlines (www.s7.ru) via Moscow for US$5,300 (Dh19,467) return including taxes. Cheaper flights are available on Flydubai and Air Astana or Aeroflot combination, flying via Astana in Kazakhstan or Moscow. Economy class tickets are available for US$650 (Dh2,400).
  • The Double Tree by Hilton in Novosibirsk (+7 383 2230100,) has double rooms from US$60 (Dh220). You can rent cabins at camp grounds or rooms in guesthouses in the towns for around US$25 (Dh90).
  • The transport Minibuses run along the Chuysky Trakt but if you want to stop for sightseeing, hire a taxi from Gorno-Altaisk for about US$100 (Dh360) a day. Take a Russian phrasebook or download a translation app. Tour companies such as Altair-Tour (+7 383 2125115 ) offer hiking and adventure packages.
Ahmed Raza

UAE cricket captain

Age: 31

Born: Sharjah

Role: Left-arm spinner

One-day internationals: 31 matches, 35 wickets, average 31.4, economy rate 3.95

T20 internationals: 41 matches, 29 wickets, average 30.3, economy rate 6.28

The Secret Kingdom

Director: Matt Drummond

Stars: Alyla Browne, Alice Parkinson, Sam Everingham

Rating: 3/5

Company Profile

Name: HyveGeo
Started: 2023
Founders: Abdulaziz bin Redha, Dr Samsurin Welch, Eva Morales and Dr Harjit Singh
Based: Cambridge and Dubai
Number of employees: 8
Industry: Sustainability & Environment
Funding: $200,000 plus undisclosed grant
Investors: Venture capital and government

Dubai World Cup Carnival Card:

6.30pm: Handicap US$135,000 (Turf) 1,200m
7.05pm: Handicap $135,000 (Dirt) 1,200m​​​​​​​
7.40pm: Zabeel Turf Listed $175,000 (T) 2,000m​​​​​​​
8.15pm: Cape Verdi Group Two $250,000 (T) 1,600m​​​​​​​
8.50pm: Handicap $135,000 (D) 1,600m​​​​​​​
9.25pm: Handicap $175,000 (T) 1,600m

Notable Yas events in 2017/18

October 13-14 KartZone (complimentary trials)

December 14-16 The Gulf 12 Hours Endurance race

March 5 Yas Marina Circuit Karting Enduro event

March 8-9 UAE Rotax Max Challenge

Dengue fever symptoms
  • High fever
  • Intense pain behind your eyes
  • Severe headache
  • Muscle and joint pains
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Swollen glands
  • Rash

If symptoms occur, they usually last for two-seven days

Get inspired

Here are a couple of Valentine’s Day food products that may or may not go the distance (but have got the internet talking anyway).

Sourdough sentiments: Marks & Spencer in the United Kingdom has introduced a slow-baked sourdough loaf dusted with flour to spell out I (heart) you, at £2 (Dh9.5). While it’s not available in the UAE, there’s nothing to stop you taking the idea and creating your own message of love, stencilled on breakfast-inbed toast.  

Crisps playing cupid: Crisp company Tyrells has added a spicy addition to its range for Valentine’s Day. The brand describes the new honey and chilli flavour on Twitter as: “A tenderly bracing duo of the tantalising tingle of chilli with sweet and sticky honey. A helping hand to get your heart racing.” Again, not on sale here, but if you’re tempted you could certainly fashion your own flavour mix (spicy Cheetos and caramel popcorn, anyone?). 

Results

4pm: Maiden; Dh165,000 (Dirt); 1,400m
Winner: Solar Shower; William Lee (jockey); Helal Al Alawi (trainer)

4.35pm: Handicap; Dh165,000 (D); 2,000m
Winner: Thaaqib; Antonio Fresu; Erwan Charpy.

5.10pm: Maiden; Dh165,000 (Turf); 1,800m
Winner: Bila Shak; Adrie de Vries; Fawzi Nass

5.45pm: Handicap; Dh175,000 (D); 1,200m
Winner: Beachcomber Bay; Richard Mullen; Satish Seemar

6.20pm: Handicap;​​​​​​​ Dh205,000 (T); 1,800m
Winner: Muzdawaj; Jim Crowley;​​​​​​​ Musabah Al Muhairi

6.55pm: Handicap;​​​​​​​ Dh185,000 (D); 1,600m
Winner: Mazeed; Tadhg O’Shea;​​​​​​​ Satish Seemar

7.30pm: Handicap; Dh205,000 (T); 1,200m
Winner: Riflescope; Tadhg O’Shea;​​​​​​​ Satish Seemar.

Bundesliga fixtures

Saturday, May 16 (kick-offs UAE time)

Borussia Dortmund v Schalke (4.30pm) 

RB Leipzig v Freiburg (4.30pm) 

Hoffenheim v Hertha Berlin (4.30pm) 

Fortuna Dusseldorf v Paderborn  (4.30pm) 

Augsburg v Wolfsburg (4.30pm) 

Eintracht Frankfurt v Borussia Monchengladbach (7.30pm)

Sunday, May 17

Cologne v Mainz (4.30pm),

Union Berlin v Bayern Munich (7pm)

Monday, May 18

Werder Bremen v Bayer Leverkusen (9.30pm)

Getting there

The flights

Flydubai operates up to seven flights a week to Helsinki. Return fares to Helsinki from Dubai start from Dh1,545 in Economy and Dh7,560 in Business Class.

The stay

Golden Crown Igloos in Levi offer stays from Dh1,215 per person per night for a superior igloo; www.leviniglut.net 

Panorama Hotel in Levi is conveniently located at the top of Levi fell, a short walk from the gondola. Stays start from Dh292 per night based on two people sharing; www. golevi.fi/en/accommodation/hotel-levi-panorama

Arctic Treehouse Hotel in Rovaniemi offers stays from Dh1,379 per night based on two people sharing; www.arctictreehousehotel.com

Points Classification

1. Marcel Kittel (Germany / Quick-Step) 63

2. Arnaud Demare (France / FDJ) 38

3. Andre Greipel (Germany / Lotto) 25

4. Sonny Colbrelli (Italy / Bahrain) 24

5. Mark Cavendish (Britain / Dimension Data) 22

6. Taylor Phinney (U.S. / Cannondale) 21

7. Geraint Thomas (Britain / Team Sky) 20

8. Thomas Boudat (France / Direct Energie) 20

9. Stefan Kueng (Switzerland / BMC Racing) 17

10. Michael Matthews (Australia / Sunweb) 17


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