Siem Reap to Bat­tam­bang boat trip

Cambodia Insight - - CONTENTS - Credit: Chinda So­van

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

Fish­ing der­rick

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