It also helps me fill in a gap in my travel diary. I spent August 2011 traveling around Cambodia and have not fully written up the experience. This fills in one of the gaps.
Siem Reap to Battambang, Cambodia, 9 August 2011
Today the plan was to travel by boat to Battambang. This involved navigating the flooded waterways at the edge of lake Tonle Sap, crossing the Northern most tip of the lake and then wending our way through a river system to Battambang proper.
I was up early, packed and had a hurried breakfast. My boat ticket included a pickup by a shuttle bus. It was late. After it became a half hour late, I began to get concerned. At this stage one of the hotel staff came over and let me know that the operator had rung up, I was not forgotten, but it would be a bit longer. I do not wait patiently, conscious of things that I could be doing, but at least on this occasion I was confident that I would not be left behind.
The minivan eventually turned up and I was loaded on board. Counting the driver, it looked like it had seating for about 9 people. We made several stops and slowly filled the van. We kept on stopping and putting more people in, plus their luggage. By now half the bus were collapsing in a combination of heat and hysterical laughter, we were packed in like sardines. They stopped at 16, by this time people were sitting in each others laps and luggage was held to the roof by ropes. No luggage racks.
|A boat similar to ours leaving the terminal|
The boat engine was loud and noisy and we took off down a narrow channel, following a road raised to ensure that it stayed dry in the wet season. At a seemingly random point we turned and dived into the vegetation surrounding us. Surprisingly the boat kept going. As I looked I realised that we now passed down a small channel, cleared of the larger debris and now kept relatively free of weeds by the regular passage of boats. I also noticed that markers, mainly old plastic bags tied to branches, also kept the driver in the channel.
|Like this on both sides|
The vegetation began to catch on the rudder and framework holding the propeller in place. One of the crew took life into his own hands and crept over the back of the boat. Periodically he would try to clear debris from around the rudder and propeller, on occasion raising the propeller to assist. At another time we had to stop and the driver put the motor in reverse to try to reduce the weed caught around the fittings.
|Ready to clean the debris from the rudder and propeller|
We crossed the lake, guided by a large float in the middle and I later recognised a distinctive radio mast, near the entrance to the river system at the other side. What looked like magic to find our way over the lake was reduced to observation and experience.
|Fisher folk at the edge of Tonle Sap|
There was plenty of wildlife with small birds visible in the trees and bushes. At one stage a dead crocodile floating upside down. Even the locals were impressed by that.
We began to pass other boats, larger craft like ours making the return journey, floating homes and small fishing craft that bobbed and tossed in our wake. The driver would slow down a little to reduce the wake but I saw at least one raised fist as we passed and I am convinced that on several occasions the driver sped up deliberately early to cause discomfort to the fisher folk.
|Passengers about to embark|
We also began to pass small isolated communities and on one occasion I saw a floating house being relocated with the aid of a small powerboat. Children would wave to us as we passed them on the banks or in their boats and we could see inside the houses as the locals went about their daily routines, or worked along the edges of the channel.
At some places we were stopped and people would get on board. This boat and others like it are their only form of transport and also I could tell a way of socializing for the locals as many obviously knew each other.
|Well dressed, even in the middle of a river|
At about the stage that my bladder could take the trip no longer we stopped at a floating dock. There was a toilet on board, but one look at the stinking fetid room was enough for me to decide to avoid it. The dock led back to the shore and some houses. At this end where we pulled up it held a small shop that also doubled as a restaurant. I was able to buy a container of rice with some fish and a vegetable sauce and a couple of cool beers.
Prior to that though nature called and after observing the etiquette of the locals I made my way around a narrow ledge next to the shop and relieved myself into the river. Males on one side of the shop females on the other. Hessian sacks dangling from the veranda roof were an attempt to preserve modesty.
I ate my meal on the boat to ensure that it would not go without me. By this time my bum was sore from the unpadded seat, but there was nothing that I could do, I had nothing with me to pad the seat which was hard and wooden. By the end of the trip I had blisters on my cheeks that stayed with me for several weeks.
After about 20 minutes we took off again. The waterways had opened up into a wider river and small communities had grown into slightly larger villages. Civilisation also intruded, with Mobile Phone Towers, the occasional power line and some solidly built brick and tile buildings interspersed amongst the wooden huts.
I was given plenty of opportunity to observe my fellow passengers. There was about a 50:50 mix of tourists like myself and locals. The locals were all invariably well dressed, better than the travelers. Their clothes were clean, whites were dazzlingly white, neatly pressed, and my fears of body odour proved groundless when seated in close company. For people who live beside or on a brown muddy river and do hard manual labour, there was no evidence of lack of personal hygiene. Almost all carried mobile phones, and they were not shy to use them. A backward country in many respects but right up with the times in many others.
|Antenna dwarf the buildings underneath|
|Ready for the afternoon wash|
After settling in and waiting for the rain to ease, I took a walk to stretch my legs. I was tired and I had a brief orientation of the city, found somewhere to eat, had a quick meal and returned home to sleep.
The Bludger was quickly asleep.