AS I CAST my mind back, back 25 years to Battambang, my rose coloured memories told me just how really nice Battambang was. In my Covid-induced locked-down world, I thought of the short time I spent in this major city- major by Cambodian standards- south of the Tonle Sap.
Livable. Once the Spicey Cough gets controlled, there are many places to visit, and I have day-dreamed of plenty. But I did find myself thinking, “I could live in Battambang.”
Evidence of human habitation 70,000 yeara ago in Battambang Province, 40km from its capital, is the oldest in Cambodia.
Hoabinhians, mainland South East Asia's original native people inhabited Laang Spean cave from 9,500 BC.
In more modern times, Angkor's Khmer kings established Battambang in the 11th century.
A weakened Angkor lost control of Battambang and other western provinces to the Thais at the end of the 18th century.
Siam ceded control to the French in 1907, who in turn lost it to various Cambodia armies throughout the late 20th century.
French architecture and town planning is still evident today, making the city of 100,000 charming.
Battambang is the food bowl of Cambodia, its rice harvest making it one of the wealthiest provinces for centuries.
The trading city benefitted from its historical and cultural ties to Thailand, as well as it geographic location.
Gems from the mines in nearby Pailin have long been traded in the markets.
The basic workshops stand in stark contrast to the value of their works.
Development, trade, wealth, society were all destroyed in the 1970s.
The first uprisings against Prince (later King) Sihanouk began in Battambang in 1967.
After his 1972 overthrow, the prince joined jungle based communists: the Khmer Rouge.
After 1979, the KR staged attacks in and around Battambang well into the 1990s, from their base in Pailin.
Despite all this adversity, Battambang is a really likable small city.
I had just a few short days there in 1995, staying with some work friends.
Most of the time was spent riding around in the countryside.....
.....which like most Cambodian cities, begins about 5 minutes from the centre of town.
Built in 1027 during the reign of King Suryavarman I, Wat Ek Phnom is 15km from town.
In sight of the Angkor era monument, the new Wat Ek Phnom has long ago been completed, showing heavy Thai influences.
These days mountain bike tours can take you to other Angkorian monuments nearby, or you could visit the museum or take a cooking class.
Part Thai, part French, but largely Khmer, the spacious city is worth exploring on foot for its own sake.
Better it be a playground for holiday makers than warlords and kings.