Slow boat to Battambang

This is the only time I have taken another mode of transport other than my bicycle between destinations. I decided a boat ride between Siem Reap and Battambang would be lovely way to spend a day, the Angkor Express runs across Tonly Sap and then continues along the Sangker River, a  six hour journey through the villages dotted along the way. This is not a tourist boat, just the regular mode of travel for the local people, although plenty of tourists use the service.  As I have come to realise, things are quite often not as they are advertised. When I first arrived at the dock, awaiting for me was not the flashy ferry as pictured on the website, but a fairly decrepit looking boat, with a toilet that had me wishing I did not have that morning coffee and wondering about my bladder holding abilities. There was not a life jacket to be seen, this only occured to me midway across Tonly Sap which is an immense body of water. I wondered about the several families on the boat and what they would do in the event of a disaster. I decided that I would save my memory card and my other belongings could sink, I reckon I would have a pretty good chance at swimming to one of the many bamboo structures dotted around the lake. Then I saw a crocodile sign,  well maybe not such a grand plan after all.

We made it through the lake and headed into the Sangker River. It was lovely and I did feel slightly more comfortable knowing my swimming distance was reduced significantly, although it would be a fast swim through the vegetation that sits on top of the water, perfect crocodile camoflage. The villages were shops on boats, hairdressers, churches and pigs pens, life was completely on the river.  Like every other village I had been to, but on water.

Before I set out on this boat ride, I did question “it’s the dry season, is boat still running?”” Yes, yes, of course”. We were three hours into the journey when we stopped at store on the river,  for a food break and to change to a smaller boat. The river divided here and we were going along the narrower side. I looked at the smaller boat and wondered how 14 passengers, plus luggage, a motorcycle and my bike were going to fit in this much smaller boat. “No problem, no problem”, the Australian family and the French doctor and his wife all wondered the same thing.  The little boat was loaded, minus the motorcycle, the owner was told to take the road, my bike thrown on top, it was terrifying. I could tell before we even got away from the dock how unstable it was. Off we went, probably travelling 10 minutes, every boat that went by caused our little boat to rock from side to side, the driver went around every corner so slowly I could tell he was even worried. Then he abruptly ran the front of the boat into the bank and there we sat, and waited, and waited. The driver was on his mobile phone, across on the otherside of the bank was a Khmer New Year party in full swing,  complete with the usual incredibly loud “duff, duff” music. I half expected the driver to bail on us and join tbe party. We became the focus of the mostly drunk young mens attention who decided to amp it up for our entertainment, after all we were a captive audience jammed into our little boat on the side of a river in the middle of nowhere. We had no way of knowing what was going on and those of us that spoke English contemplated what was happening. Fortunately, everyone just took it in their stride, the children amused themselves by trying to catch little fish by hand, without tipping the boat to one side too much, and did I mention how hot is here!
Eventually the boat we were originally on draws up alongside us, we are all loaded back onto the big boat and off we go. The reason we changed boats became clear very quickly, it had a problem with the steering.  The boat would end going directky into the bank on the corner, the driver would use a pole to push us off the bank and manually face the boat the way it needed to go. This happens was every few minutes, and the poor driver was exhausted and it was taking forever, I was starting to doubt that we would make it all. At one stage a few of us jumped out of the boat and pushed it away from the bank. 10 hours later we arrive 10km from Battambang and I really got the feeling this was just another day in the office for the driver.

Finally off the boat,  bike ready to ride the 10km to Battambang and I was faced with Khmer New Year Celebrations. The roads were filled with people with nerf guns, hoses, buckets of water and talcum powder. Utes packed with people in the back with huge containers of water.  The loudest music I have ever heard was blasting from every direction. There was water and talcum powder everywhere and I was fair game. I was drenched, and while it was cool, I just wanted to be left alone, I was painfully aware of the amount of water going into my mouth. I certainly wasn’t feeling their festive spirit and as much as I wanted to take a photo of the mayhem, I couldn’t. It was also a little frightening, packs of young men were mobbing people on motorbikes, dousing them with water and rubbing talcum powder in their faces. There were heavily armed Police riding around in trucks. I just felt like it could get out of control very easily, although it was all done in good spirits, it seemed it could easily turn the other way. I rarely ever lose my cool, but I was over this, it had been a long day, the young man who thought it was funny to rub talcum powder in my face as I rode by got his arm pushed out of they way less than gently.  I ended up detouring off the main road, I would have done this a lot earlier but it was impossible to stop anywhere and not get mobbed. I needed to use my phone for mapping and didn’t want it to get wet, I turned off the first road I could to get off the main road. These streets were better, but there were still kids out with there parent’s and I copped the odd waterbomb. Eventually I arrived at my hotel, dripping wet and covered in mud and talcum powder. They didn’t want to let me in I don’t think, I am sure by now I  had my best “don’t mess with me look” on my face and they gave me a room. I really hope that tomorrow the celebrations are over, it was such a contrast from my peaceful few days in Siem Reap.


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