To Siem Reap, by boat

Trip Start Mar 03, 2010
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Trip End May 02, 2010


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Flag of Cambodia  , Bătdâmbâng,
Wednesday, April 7, 2010

It's only a few hours by bus to from Battambang to Siem Reap by bus, but there is a far more pleasant way to travel between the two - by boat.  Oh a lovely April morning, before the temperatures reached 40c, I jumped on a small narrow boat filled with a mixture of locals, backpackers and cargo, to make the 10 hour journey upstream to Siem Reap.

It was around dawn that we jumped on-board.  The peacefulness of the river was a fantastic start to the day, which lasted until the massive on-board motors kicked in and we went whizzing up the river.  A peaceful, slow trip down the river it is not.

The River levels were fairly low, as its the end of the dry season, but thankfully not so low that we couldn't make it the entire way.  Instead, we sat on-board some narrow bench type seats, with all leg room dedicated to cargo and children.  It's cramped, it's noisy, its fast - but my god it is a gorgeous trip.

We passed tons of tiny villages, where children would run alongside the river waving and shouting as we passed.  At some places locals would paddle over to the boat, jump on board themselves, or take cargo off.  For people who live on the river, it's an important method of transport. 

Other villages were literally built on water.  These floating villages actually move up and down the river with the seasons.  Some had shops, schools and village halls - all floating.  At other times we passed convoys of fishermen who live on their boats with their families.  They would be all joined up together and go by for minutes, as that particular group moved along the river. 

The bird-life was fantastic too, especially since the noise of the engines would have scared most wildlife away.  Saw countless Herons, Pelicans and Wadding Birds.  Add in massive fishing contraptions, overgrown trees, riverside plantations, the spray from the water and you have yourself one hell of a fun day.

As we reached the massive Lake Sap, the engines started to cut out.  So for a while we simply drifted in the middle of the lake as the owners fixed the boat by kicking it.  Was brilliant!

Entering the small river channel that leads from the Lake to Siem Reap, we passed by another massive floating village, however this time there were literally hundreds of tourist boats there too.  Welcome to Siem Reap, THE tourist hotspot of Cambodia.

By tourists I don't mean backpackers or independent travelers.  I mean massive tour groups, especially from South Korea, Japan, China and the USA.  They would be on these huge boats, all belted up and with safety vests on, with food and drink and commentary.  As we passed they tried to get photos of us and looked at us with pity.  Oh you fools. 

Since ours wasn't a tourist boat, the drivers didn't really give a shit about the rules of the river, and literally barged past some of the large boats, soaking the passengers as we went.  Thus a lot of laughter from all on-board - locals and westerners alike - as we got one over the tourists. 

Which was proper funny until 30 seconds later we hit a sandbank and breached ourselves in the middle of the river.  Que all the men on the boat getting off and pushing it back into the water as those sodding tourist boats passed us again.  Still, we had the last laugh - they paid 5 times as much for an hour trip than I did for my day long journey, with none of the fun.  Fools.
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