Thursday, 22 March 2012

Traveling Thursday

This is an entry for the 7 Day Challenge.
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
We made our way out to a boat dock, for want of a better word. I had time for a quick leak, but they were urging us on board as by now we were at least an hour late.

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 came at last to lake Tonle Sap proper. An amazing feeling. This is part of one of the great ecosystems of the world. A freshwater lake that floods in the wet season, at the same time as the Mekong and Mekong Delta floods. It forms a unique habitat that cover millions of square kilometers and brings life to the parched interior of the country. Undamaged by humans. Unfortunately not, as the locals used it as a dumping ground for all their rubbish and cigarette butts during the journey. Unfortunately so did some of the other foreign travelers, people who should have known better.
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
From there the trip became like an adventure into the unknown. The channels varied in size from narrow to nice open stretches of water. Tight turns made it interesting and on several the crew had to use oars to help the boat turn and on one occasion we did not make it around and hit the bank with a solid thud.
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
The boat trip ended at a mooring beneath a bridge. There was no jetty, a big jump down to the sloping bank. It was just starting to rain with the daylight fading towards dusk. I had no idea where I was in relation to my accommodation. The crowd of passengers made their way up to the top of the river bank and slowly dispersed onto their prearranged transport. I was about the last when a man approached me and made it known that he could give me a lift. He seemed to know my hotel and mentioned a price. I readily agreed and hopped on the back of his motorbike. He carried me no more than 300 meters to my hotel. I could have walked if I had known where it was. I was happy however, the rain was about to dump down and I was dry.
Ready for the afternoon wash
The hotel was old but magnificently furnished with heavy hand carved wooden furniture, dating back to a time when the French ruled this country and brought courtesan style and European standards to the country. Maybe furniture like this was still made, but I suspect the woodworking skills were probably lost during the countries internal war. Furniture and wall panels consisted of dark wood with thick layers of varnish polished to a high shine. Worth a fortune in any western country.
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.


  1. Your posts on your travels are really interesting. I particularly like hearing about the Aussie outback as I am reminded of my backpacking days in the 80s. I read your post on Longreach which brought back memories of a few days there and going to the Sheep Shearers' Ball! Great fun and a very different experience for a townie Pom.

  2. Thanks Millymollymandy. I think that travel is the one thing in life that I enjoy the most. I guess that shows in my posts about travelling.
    On the other hand I am also jealous of your lifestyle. Something that I would love to do, but could probably never settle down enough to actually do.

  3. Unfortunately travel and my lifestyle are absolutely not compatible! I am envious of folk who live over here who have camper vans and can just go off around France or Spain or wherever takes their fancy for a couple of months - we can't do that with animals and a garden to look after.

    1. The grass is always greener....I think.
      My parents have lived on a farmlet for years, I think similar to you and your husband. Grew vegetables because they had the space and it was cheaper. A few animals occasionally killed for meat.
      I do like the idea, I like to plant things and see them grow, but the urge to travel is hard to resist.
      I like your blog by the way. Maybe I can live vicariously on a property through your experiences.