Siem Reap to Battambang boat trip
There are two ways to get from Battambang to Siem Reap besides a private taxi. You may either take the bus through Sisophon which takes about three hours and costs $5.50, or the river boat along the Sangker River. This takes as long as seven to nine hours depending on the water levels and costs $20, plus it requires a $5 tuk-tuk ride from its remote dock into town. A simple cost-benefit analysis favors the bus, but that would be a mistake, because the boat ride from Battambang to Siem Reap is a memorable scenic journey.
The agent arranged for us to be collected at 6.30 am in the morning and be transported by tuk tuk to the Chong Kneas ferry port, 15km from the town centre. The boat was supposed to depart at 7.30 am, but unfortunately on the day we made the trip the boat did not depart until 8.30 am due to waiting for extra guests to arrive.
The boat is about forty feet long by ten feet wide, and there are three areas to sit in. Below board there are doublewide benches which line each side of a center aisle (forward seats are preferred since the rear engine is quite loud). You can also try the open bow where there is a small space for a few people to squat, or on the roof where most of the guest’s luggage is stowed, which is in the breeze and away from the noise.
When we finally departed we crossed the vast expanse of Tonle Sap Lake, which in 1997 was designated as a protected area under UNESCO’S “Man and Biosphere” program. There are three ‘core zones’, but the most interesting is the Prek
Toal Bird Sanctuary which is just as you enter the meandering narrow tracks of the Sangker River. Apart from large numbers of Storks, Pelicans and Ibis, there are many rare species, such as the amazing Painted Stork.
With the continuous change of the water level, the people who live there have to move their houses when the water level recedes. Whole villages including schools, shops, churches, fish farms and crocodile farms are moved to an area where the water is still high enough to float.
After about an hour we left the watery desert of the Tonle Sap and the partially submerged trees to enter the Sangker River through marsh and swamp to actual river banks where elegant Banyan Trees define the river bends. The boat often stops to pick up passengers or drop off packages, as it’s the lifeline of the river dwellers. The houses on stilts all have stairs that descend to floating docks and canoes. Some houseboats are attached to huge bamboo fishing derricks that lower giant nets into the shallows. We stopped for snacks at Prey Chas, watching small canoes with outboard engines serving as water taxis for locals crossing the river or navigating between villages.
The views are gorgeous, passing many small fishing villages, which included clinics, stores, and residences balanced on multiple bamboo rails in the water, thus allowing visitors to get a sense of life on the river side. You may see someone bathing or scrubbing their laundry with suds drifting just a few meters from someone else washing their vegetables. Women can be seen draped in loose sarongs splashing buckets of water over their heads for their morning shower, while men plunge their hands deep into the brown water to bring up delicate fishing nets and sturdy traps.
We finally arrived at 4.30 pm, making it an 8 hour trip. It was packed with diversity both of scenery and lifestyle, giving an insight into the real life in Cambodia. The river is their life-blood and provides food, drink, commerce, and activity, but what made the boat journey so unique was being able to experience the river life upclose and personal. From the large Tonle Sap Lake and all along the small connecting rivers we were able to watch the everyday life of the river and its people at close range. Something we will absolutely never forget.
Tonle Sap Lake
Houses in a floating village
Along the narrow river
Along the floating village