Battambang: The Boat Trip
Trip Start Jan 25, 2010
9Trip End Feb 23, 2010
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Where I stayed
BUT it's a looong story of how I got here. Can that story wait? No, it cannot.
So I was in Siem Reap and decided to get the boat to Battambang. The Lonely Planet calls it the most enchanting boat trip in Cambodia, a birdwatcher's paradise. I'm not much of a bird person but I'm definitely a boat person, and to be fair the Lonely Planet also said "foreigners sit on the roöf, bring sunsreen and a hat." It said the ride could take anywhere from 6-9+ hours. Most people had been told 6 or 7. So I look at the map and the Siem Reap ferry is in another "town,", called Chong Kneas. So I figure I'll stay the night there as the ferry leaves at 7am. I figure I will just buy my ticket at the terminal. So, I get out there. It's about an hour and a half on my bike and when I get there it's a poverty stricken fishing village with shacks on bamboo poles and not much else. There are no guesthouses, some guy tells me they're never heard of anyone wanting to stay there. I'm told to go back to Siem Reap and get a guesthouse. Thanks alot. Then I tell them it's too far to bike in the morning and get blank looks. Oh well. So I turn around. on the way back about 2km from the terminal there is a place with a bunch of hammocks. I stop there and the guy comes out and gives me an extortionately priced menu. I say I want something from the bottom of it, I can't remember what. He points to a tiny x next to that thing, and I notice 50% of things on that menu are x'd. So I say, orange juice. He goes to the freezer and pulls out a sprite. I shrug, that will do. Then I ask if I can stay the night. I show him on the clock, and he gets all exited, I don't think this has happened before. He asks for $6 and I say $5, I paid 6 last night for a private room with a bathroom. He says OK. Frankly it was way too much but there are nooo places to stay around here. So, I try out a hammock and it's like.....you know when the Christmas ham has string around it and the string is really tight so the ham bulges out? Yeah, like that. The hammock is made from like three bits of rope and I'm very uncomfortable. So I regret my decision not to buy a hammock in Siem Reap. And then apparently I need to buy my boat ticket in SR anyway so I tell the guy I'll bike there and be back in about 3 hours. He says no don't worry I'll take you on my motorbike. No money. Something fishy going on here, I think to myself, and jump on the motorbike. So we zoom into town and head immediately to a shop with fake GUCCI bags etc. Weird. The guy tells me to go in and get my ticket. Unfortunately for him I head into the internet cafe immediately adjacent to said GUCCI bag store, and hit up some websites to tell me how much this ticket should cost. When I come out and ask the bag guy, he tells me literally twice the price I've just read. When I laugh and inform him of this, he tells me the website is outdated. "Maybe it's your brain that's outdated" I say, and jump back on the guys bike and ask him to take me to the market. What a stinker, he must have been going to get a cut of that and that's why he offered to take me for free. So, we go to the market and I tell him to wait. I go into three different places before I get a price around what the internet said, so I buy the ticket and on my way out buy a hammock as well.
I jump back on the bike and smile sweetly. Mwahaha. One point to me.
ANyway we get back and I spend the aftrnoon reading in my hammock. The guy has a wife and toddler. For some reason toddlers here wear jewellery.
I pay them an extortionate price for dinner and at bath time after they're done he shows me the bathroom, which is pretty much a few tiles cemented together balanced on some bamboo and some bits of corrugated iron for walls. Theres a square cement box and a hose thing emptying into it and a small bucket. Thus was my first bucket shower, the cold water wasn't too bad :) At night he puts a mosquito net up on the floor. I haven't mentioned hte floor yet have I? This village has houses built all about 15 feet above the ground (the road is like a long ridge that drops down on both sides) and it's mostly bamboo. This floor has a timber frame but the floor is strips of bamboo nailed to the timber, all quite close together which doesn't stop it from being very dodgy indeed. You could clearly see through the floor as it was just slats, the 15 feet below to water/strange vegetation, ducks, fireflies, dogs or the occasional pig. And the bamboo would make you kind of bounce as you walked across. Some bits were broken and left gaping holes in the floor. There were a few strips of timber in one corner so I slept on a mat on top of htem. It was hard. And possibly the worst night's sleep I've ever had as we were directly adjacent to the road with motos whizzing past and dogs barking, roosters crowing and bamboo creaking. I would have rather slept in the hammock but I saw the merits of the mosquito net. And it was HOT.
I wake up at 6:04 and freak out because I really don't want to miss my ferry. I pack all my stuff and strap it to my bike, and thank the guy for everything. I also pay $3 for the same dinner from last ngiht that I had the day before for $1 in town.
I forget to unstring and pack my hammock (which to be fair is strung up in a room of hammocks.) I have been trying to convince myself that I gave it to them out of the kindness of my heart. Luckily I bought 2. I bike to the ferry and am immediately accosted by women trying to sell things. "Hey Lady, you buy, no have food on the boat."AGH shut up!! So I buy a bottle of water and a bunch of bananas...if only I would have known I would have bought everything she had.
I get on the boat. the woman I bought the ticket from said I would need to pay $7 for my bike so I say to the guy, I need to pay you $3 for my bike, right? and he says, no,$5. (Yes! A point to me) and I pay the guy and me and the bike clamber onto the roof. Now I'd say in NZ (though we wouldn't put people on the roof, as they would fall off and sue) you'd fit maybe ten or fifteen people on that roof, and ten or fifteen people below. I think there were, by the time that boat departed, upwards of sixty people on that boat, 28 of them on the roof. I have a picture and it is awesome. Anyway anyone could tell we were heavily overloaded. The boat slowly pulls out. At first it''s like, oh this is nice, the sunrise, the lake, the little fishing boats. We go through some little communties and we're taking pictures of the naked children, the boats, the houses which look like they'd fall apart if we sneezed. After about 2 and a half hours, it got hotter, and hotter.
The river is quite low so we're going slowly and banging into things like the sides of the river, trees, getting quite close to people checking their traps etc...
At the very peak of the hotness, the boat splutters and the motor dies. We are all stuck on the roof like sardines and no one can move from their chosen space for fear of being burned by the hot blue metal of the boat roof surface. Seriously. There were 2 kiwis on that boat who I was sitting with and they stood up right before th boat spluttered and then couldn't sit back down until I had cooled a place next to me with my shadow. We had no railing where we were eaither so everytime the boat lurched we had to lean backwards and get flat. After about half an hour the boat was fixed. We saw some dead fishes in the water and figured they'd died from the heat. We pressed on.
After about 7 hours of this we wondered if it would ever end. It was 3pm and no sign of anything except random kids and shacks along the river. At least the heat started to subside and we found out the real reason for the dead fish....our propeller. So we sat and watched the fish get hit by our propeller and get flung into the riverbank, trees, into other boats etc. I thought that someone should perhaps be coming along behind us with a net, they'd catch just as many fish as everyone else. Though they're be small
. There was a Norwegian high school tour group on board and they were much pastier than me, that should tell you something. Anyway they were pretty pink by the end, despite everyone lathering sunscreen on like there was no tomorrow. Who knew, maybe for us there would be no tomorrow, prehaps we were destined to ride the boat from hell for eternity.
The boat died again at about 4 pm and at about 6pm we stopped in a random place and everyone got off the boat to continue to our desination by bus while it got dark. Since I had my bike someone had come with a pickup, and there were about 8 people that couldn't fit on teh bus anyway so we all piled in the back of the pickup on top of my bike, a big pile of metal, north face gear and pink flesh bouncing around as the dust swirled around out heads. Welcome to rural Cambodia folks, potholes the size of swimming pools and fine powdery orange dust that fills your eyes, mouth and underwear (I know, I don't understand it) and takes AGES to clear, our introduction was on that pickup trip, which was about 40 minutes long and we were all sitting up on the outside frame of the pickup, hanging on for dear life, floppy orange rag dolls, somehow the people we passed could still identify us as the foreigners we were and would happily shout "hello" through their scarves which they wore to protect them from the evil swirling about.
We arrived in Battambang and there was a mad rush for the tuk tuks, from what I could gather we were quite close to the city centre anyway but I should mention that my front bike tyre gave up the ghost on teh boat journey (I thought perhaps it had melted) and I had to walk it into town like an idiot. It took about an hour for me to find a place to stay, the Paris Hotel (don't stay there it's not that clean. Just like Paris haha) but the guys at the desk were pretty funny and at least it had a shower, even if the bathroom looked like the one from SAW, I was grateful to wash the dust off.
So that's that. Read on in my next blog.