Slow Boat to China, I mean Siem Reap

Trip Start Oct 30, 2012
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Trip End May 30, 2013


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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Monday, November 19, 2012

I had heard that the boat ride from Battambang to Siem Reap was one of the nicest in Cambodia. The idea of smoothly gliding through the water, rather than being bashed around in a crowded bus on a dusty road did have it's appealing side.

Four times the price and four times the journey length compared to the bus. However, we were making this our day's activity (vs. rushing to Siem Reap and then hiring a tour to go see the floating villages on the lake). 

After having rained all through the night, everything was clean and fresh for the start of our 7am boat ride.  Wasn't quite a quiet and serene boat ride as I might have hoped (the noise of the motor insured this) but it was a great way to see what life along the water is like. Rickety ladders led up the banks from simple long boats to stilted homes. Fishers going along and checking their net lines. People running along boats like they're on the land. But just like everywhere in Cambodia, you still had children rushing out to smile, wave and shout 'hello'!

The boat trip seemed to be going well. We are just at the end of the rainy season, so the water levels are still quite high. Many times of the year large sections of this waterway are not navigable – especially by a big boat like this. But then, the inevitable happened – we got stuck. In their greed, the boat owners must have sold a few extra tickets that morning and took too many big barang butts on the boat. A good 15 minutes of screaming motors, churning muck and a guy who was employed solely to push the boat with a 15 foot paddle and we were free. In my distraction of being stuck I didn't notice where it was the captain was attempting to take the boat: down a tiny opening in the trees. So narrow that the trees burst through the sides of the boat as we went along. Horn blasting to make sure we didn't meet anyone ahead, passengers dove for the isles. Various species of insects were thrown into the boat. It seemed like just when we were getting bored, this came along to spice things up!

Our boat changed from just a passenger ferry to an everything ferry.  When approaching a settlement, the horn would blast and someone would paddle a boat out to us where a bag or two of goods would be exchanged.

We slowly left behind the trees, and things began to open up as we approached the lake. Houses moved from stilts floating. Some homes were just covered boats. Without the trees, vegetation was limited and I began to wonder how these people could rely completely on fish! Although, certain industrious people were growing bananas on small barges, and a few chickens had their own floating rafts to peck at! Children paddled together in boats to get to school. 

The Tonal Sap Lake is the largest freshwater lake in mainland Asia, I believe I read somewhere.  Depending on the season (rainy or dry) this lake can double in size. There are some villages that perch their homes on 6m stilts to accommodate this. During the dry season, they actually abandon these homes and move farther out in the lake living on temporary floating homes. I'm still trying to understand why a group of people would choose to make their lives completely on water like this. I understand fishing, but isn't it beneficial to be close to land?

We decided to head up onto the roof to stretch our legs and catch some rays. Much better than hard wooden seats and branches wacking our heads. The first swell in the land ahead and I knew that we could see our destination. What a beautiful view! Completely different than anything we had seen before. We were in the area where the lake expands in the wet season. So there were the odd trees popping out of the still water – like nothing I've ever seen before! Perhaps I see why people would choose to make a life out here after all.


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