Cambodia, like its neighbors was ruled by the French so has beautiful old charming French buildings around town and viewing them with the setting sun makes a picturesque image as the golden sunlight meets the pastels and yellows of the old fading and sometimes crumbling buildings. Battambang is such a town and outside of viewing some of the old French architecture there isn't much to do and the charm lies in just that, exploring the town on bicycles and cruising around the river. We arrived late into town and being a small area, were able to walk a few minutes to our hotel where we were able to get dinner as they were shutting off the lights.
All towns in the country are dominated by markets (psar) and the one in Battambang Psar Nat was a wonderful place to sample local flavors and we got our breakfast of rice porridge and noodles to start our day. The few sites in town as stated earlier are the old buildings and the night market, another place that exists in many countries. We decided to get ambitious the next day and rented a few bikes to peddle out to Phnom Sampeou, which is a religious site consisting of monastaries, caves, monks, and sadly more brutal history of the Khmer Rouge where they ruthlessly killed people. The hike to the top provides great views of the countryside below but one has to watch out for many mischevous monkeys that will gladly take your food. There are a few impressive caves around the area and with the help of a local were able to locate many of these hidden areas on foot. There was one disturbing cave in particular where the Khmer Rouge soldiers bludgeoned to death approximately 1,300 people and would throw their bodies from the cave opening below. In display were the many bones and skulls of the deceased now encased in a Buddhist shrine to ease their soul and spirit.
Another reason for being in this town is to take the picturesque 9 hour boat ride on the Sengker River all the way to Siem Riep. The boat departs early in the morning, so had to wake up around 5:30 AM to get ready and head out to the dock. We started the day with a traditional Khmer breakfast of duck eggs, rice porridge, and fish all provided for the wonderful price of free! Yes, the gracious hotel owner was kind enough to send us off on a full stomach and everytime encounters of such amazing kindness happen to us, we are always taken back by the people's genuiness and amazing friendliness. The ride up the river was beautiful, tragic, and happy. It was beautiful because of the sites that we passed, which consisted of floating villages, locals fishing, woman and kids bathing and playing in the waters and basically using the river to provide for their livelihood. It was tragic because at many places along the river we passed slums and many shanty towns with floating garbage, burning trash, and open pipes from houses above running into the river with many kids playing in the dirty water. It was happy because despite the hard conditions present everytime we passed a house a kid would pop up and smiling beamingly would shout out "hello" above the loud boat water and wave like a flag in the wind with all the enthausium that he/she could muster. We couldn't help but break out in gigantic smiles and never got tired of waving back during the entire ride duration. I know for both if us if anything can be said about winning over a country, it definitely is the people and we certainly fell in love with their optimitic, enthuastic, and friendly attitudes.