What to See In Banteay Meanchey
Banteay Meanchey is located in northwest Cambodia and is heavily transited by overland travelers going between Siem Reap and Thailand. The province is bordered by Thailand to the west, by Oddar Meanchey to the north, by Siem Reap to the east, and by Battambang to the south.
The main population centers are Poipet and the provincial capital, Sisophon, locally referred to as "Sway" (say like "Thai"). As this province borders Thailand, Thai baht is the first currency, dollars are second
This town is the armpit of Cambodia if not all of Southeast Asia, If Poipet is your first introduction to Cambodia please do not judge the country either by the physical appearance of the town or by the people you meet, many of which will be looking for ways to separate you from as many of your dollars as possible in the least amount of time. Coming to or from Thailand you will have no choice but to transit through here. The best advice I can give you is to GET OUT OF THIS PLACE AS FAST AS POSSIBLE!!
Poipet breaks every rule of Cambodian politeness and courtesy and if you feel like someone may be taking advantage of you do not succumb to feelings of "Oh, I'm a guest in this country, I'll let it go," or worse, "Oh, these people have it so hard, I can forgive (fill in the blank with whatever it is they are doing)." First of all, you are not a guest, you are a customer and the product you have purchased is tourism. Secondly, there will be many opportunities to extend charity and goodwill to the Cambodian people, but please trust me when I tell you that this is NOT the place to do it. Save your charity for later. You'll meet plenty of people who deserve it a lot more than these clowns.
[Note: December 2005: Though things have gotten a bit better in Poipet since this was first written nearly three years ago, it's still an armpit, and still a place you probably don't want to hang around too long.]
Also, be very wary of pickpockets (including some very small ones!) and keep a close eye on your belongings at all times.
Unless you'd like to gamble at any of Poipet's many casinos, Poipet offers NO tourist attractions.
There are some guesthouses, but thankfully I've never had to spend the night at one and for a little more cash you can bunk up at one of the casinos. Cheap restaurants are plenty, but again, get out of here and have lunch in either Thailand or Sisophon depending on what direction you are heading.
For more information on Poipet, the border crossing, and overland transport out of here, see my comprehensive Overland guide. This includes all the practical details plus there is a section devoted to travelers' reports which includes a number of Poipet experiences.
This is the province's one major tourist attraction and has recently become a lot easier to visit. Located about 60 kms north of Sisophon, it's a sprawling 12th century temple that has been badly looted. Additional smaller temples dot the region. I still have not made the trip up here so I can't offer any special insight into the place.
You can visit Banteay Chhmar as a long day-trip from Siem Reap by Camry taxi, moto, or by riding a 250cc motorbike. Hidden Cambodia Dirt Bike Tours can be helpful to this end. You can also spend the night in Sisophon, which if you're riding a motorbike, may be, depending on your level of endurance, a better option. If spending the night in Sisophon, you can easily visit the temple by riding on the back of a moto and paying a day rate of about $10.
This is the provincial capital of Banteay Meanchey. It's main claim to fame is that of being the overland transportation hub of northwest Cambodia. Almost all long distance pick-up trucks traveling between Battambang, Poipet, and Siem Reap will stop here making the "bus" station (there are no buses) a lively and potentially annoying place. The rest of the town is a bit more relaxed and full of the requisite statues, small parks, and traffic circles that comprise many a Cambodian provincial capital. Tourist buses also make a lunch stop here as well. If you find yourself spending the night, or you just happen to have a few hours to kill, there are a few pagodas scattered around worth a peek. You can head west down the main road a couple of kilometers to the large hill there and wander up to the pagoda and also climb the lookout tower leftover from the war.
Several hotels and restaurants are on the main road on the Poipet end of town. When I stayed here it was at the Neak Meas Hotel and I found it and its restaurant to be adequate. I didn't try out the karaoke facilities, though.
To the east of Sisophon, about ten or fifteen kilometers on National Highway 6, is a village, Rohal I think it is, specializing in all manners of sculpture. If you ever wanted your own Buddha or perhaps a hanuman, garuda, naga or other mythological icon to place in the traffic circle back in England, well, here's the place to buy one. They also sell table-sized figures.