It was an early start for us as we waited for the 630 Tuk Tuk to transport us to the Ferry to Battambang, not sure why it is called a ferry as it really is a slow boat as we were to discover. Yesterday we got two tickets for just USD $26 each for the 5 hour trip and although the bus was only USD $5 each and only 4 hours in duration we thought the boat was a better option for the experience and the views.
Transport was running late so we had some dodgy fried rice and a cup of coffee at the hotel. Transport arrived in the shape of a small mini bus with a smiling driver and a pushy lady conductor that pointed to a seat and said sit. All the luggage was stacked on the passenger seat near the driver and it was a wonder he could see out at all. There were about ten people on the bus already and we thought this shouldn’t take long and we’ll be on the ferry. Famous last words…. Well the conductors phone was running hot and she was barking down the phone and at the driver non stop as we raced from hotel to hotel to pick up bewildered passengers. Just when we thought the us couldn’t take any more passengers we’d divert and pick up two more. The bus was absolutely chockas and we arrived at a hotel where a passenger was just boarding a Tuk Tuk. The conductor flew off the bus and under a barrage of Khmer the Tuk Tuk driver unloaded his passengers. This happened again at our last hotel where we picked up another five passengers which meant there were ten of us in the front two seats. By this stage the luggage could only be loaded via the drivers door and passengers just passed their bags to be placed on the massive pile. In an accident we wouldn’t have air bags we’d have our bags.lol It was a great laugh heading to the ferry all jammed in like sardines, bringing back memories of misspent youth and trying to set new records of how many of your mates you could jam in your car.
The conversations were hilarious with people cracking jokes about the situation in German, Russian, French and English with the backdrop of the conductor talking ten to the dozen in Khmer on the phone, to the driver or at anyone who’d listen, it was a real multicultural moment in time.
Just before we reached the jetty at Phnom Krom we went through the fishing village where all the houses are perched precariously high on stilts over the water and the school is a floating one.It looked amazing as the wood was just what had been collected around the place, not processed all different heights and thicknesses.
The wharf at Phnom Krom was buzzing with activity, well actually buzzing with ladies reminding everyone that there was no food or drinks on the boat but they had plenty for sale all at $1 each. We purchased a few cold coffee espresso cans, a hand of bananas, and 2 x 1 litre bottles of water for USD $5. We had already purchased a few baguettes at our last stop so we were ok for food.
The boat wasn’t exactly what we were expecting. I expected the fast ferry that whips along at about 45 knots but we instead had the scaled down version with seats for 28, plus roof passengers and the stools they had stored at the back to accommodate aisle passengers. Leaving the wharf the boat was pretty full of Europeans and Michele commented I was told this was a local ferry, I don’t see too many locals.
We left an hour late and it was interesting passing through the floating village watching people repairing nets, women washing clothes and kids playing in the boats and waving as we passed. Soon we were out in the lake and hammering along at full speed. The diesel turbo really was whining hard as the engine tried to lift the boat up on the plane and Michele and I both put our headphones on to drown out the noise. I noticed everyone else had the same idea and were busily stuffing earplugs in as the whining got louder and louder.
We ran at full speed, about 25 knots, for an hour across the Tonlé Sap, which is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia,dodging the floating nets which dot the lakes surface before entering the marshland where they reduced speed. The entry into the marshland is pretty tight with reeds scraping down both sides, it was almost like an episode of Daktari.
The marshland was also home to more fishing villages and everyone waved to the smiling kids and the passengers clicked happily away on their cameras. The river widened out around the village and everyone lived on the water in traditional square floating homes. There were boys racing long tailed boats, people putting along in their motorised sampans, whilst others saved on fuel and paddled theirs.
The Ferry came to a halt around Prek Toal as a small sampan paddled up alongside us and disgorged its passengers. The passengers quickly leapt across and their belongings were passed across and we were quickly back under way. As the Ferry was passing through the village it blew its horn to remind other boats to stay clear and to signal those using the service, and soon sampans were being paddled towards us. Bags and boxes to be sent to another stop, and more passengers boarded as we passed through.
The fishing villages were fascinating, with mums washing clothes in the river whilst hanging over the side of sampans, kids playing, floating crane fishing nets, all assortments of fish traps, and floating fish pens. Like any village there were local stores and restaurants, even temples and all along the river there were people setting traps, and laying nets it was definitely not a good place to be a fish.
The river was really windy, with sharp bends and quite often as the ferry turned around the twisting bends it was caught in the rivers current and carried into the opposite bank. The crew were quick to respond pushing off the riverbank with long paddles to get us back on track. The ferry had a long drive shaft leading to the propeller, with the rudder hanging behind it, about 10 feet behind the stern so it was important not to get this stuck on the riverbank, water hyacinths or numerous fish traps.
The river was also alive with all sorts of bird species, cormorants, storks, egrets, herons, swallows,even beautiful Rainbow Bee-eaters and it was good fun trying to spot the different species.
We stopped at a few more villages along the way just like the first to pick up more local passengers and by this stage after drinking all my cans of coffee and a litre of water my back teeth were floating. The Ferry had a toilet so I thought I’d give it a go…… Well six foot doesn’t go into three foot very well and I had a serious dilemma I couldn’t just unzip the fly on my jeans and have a pee because the toilet was only three feet high and being over six feet tall I was bent in half like the Indian rubber man….. I could’ve gone back outside and pee’d over the stern but we were in the middle of a village full of kids all smiling and waving….geez international incident or what? I could’ve knelt on the floor and unzipped but the floor was wet with who knows what so I would have to burn my jeans later… So not an option The only option and least attractive was to try and undo my jeans and pull them down….. Sounds simple enough….it wasn’t……and doing them back up again was another mission……but all the effort was well worth it. Miraculously Michele held her bladder from 6am until we arrived at the hotel so did not need to avail herself of the experience.
We stopped for a brief lunch at another floating village called Chong Kneas. The Battambang Siem Reap Ferry was in at the same time and it was hilarious because our passengers were getting off at the same time as theirs were trying to get on and the floating restaurant started to list forward and pretty soon the front verandah was under water and slowly sinking. There were excited locals running about telling everyone to head to the back of the shop, maybe a ploy to get people to buy stuff. I headed to the toilet as I wasn’t going through the same issues on the ferry again and I found another interesting toilet. This time it was just a tin outhouse on the side of the houseboat with a big square hole in the floor and a scoop to wash your butt with. Just remember to fill the scoop before you start your poop, however the worrying thing would be as there is no seat you’d have to squat your butt close to the water and hope and pray no marine life latches on to your rear end. That’d give you a surprise.lol
I bought some fried rice, the skipper sounded the ferry’s horn and we were on our way again and Michele and I had lunch on the ferry. You remember earlier I said we had plenty of food well sadly the fresh baquettes fell on the floor, the bananas and other fruit were off so in reality we had nothing.
As we got further up the river it narrowed and it became a little dangerous with all the blind bends and sharp corners. There were heaps of traps, nets and fallen trees in the river and lots of sampans, and long tailed boats zooming along. I noticed that people in this area lived on large Sampans with curved roofs, either on the river or hauled up on the riverbank and had built temporary shelters on the riverbank. The kids all along the river still smiled and waved and we waved back.
As we drew closer to Battambang we noticed that people no longer lived on the river but in temporary or permanent structures on the riverbank and it was obvious that they also were rice and small crop farmers. They had sampans but it was obvious that they were used mainly for transport as many were swamped at their moorings. Their association with the river was vastly different to the fishermen further downstream as the riverbanks around their houses were strewn with plastic bags and all sorts of rubbish. It was just abysmal. Seeing a woman washing clothes between piles of plastic bag rubbish made me wonder why nobody thought to pick all the rubbish up and burn it.
As we approached Battambang it was also drop off for locals, and the ferry nosed in to the riverbank at all different spots to allow local families to jump off.
Just on five o’clock four hours later than originally planned, we arrived, nine hours of a really incredible experience and there was a line up of Tuk Tuk drivers fighting for our business. The steel ladder leading from the wharf to the street was an engineering marvel with 100 mm wide steel steps with a 300 mm gap between steps ensuring you had to look at your feet the whole way or you’d fall through and need a tetanus shot.
All the Tuk Tuk Drivers were asking which hotel and one just muscled all the others aside so we took him. The Tuk Tuk’s are a little different in Battambang and most are converted farm trikes with and old school 250cc motorcycle front and a tray on the back which has big seats and a roof and is a big step to climb into he back. For USD $2 our driver took us from the wharf to the Coconut House which is a few kilometres out.
After checking in we tried to hire a motorbike at he hotel but it was already booked so we headed towards the Gecko cafe as we’d heard they rent out bigger bikes.. We had a meal of Khmer Lok Lak, Khmer Pork, Apple Tart crumble and coffee at the Lonely Tree Cafe. Its a cafe supporting disabled and at risk kids, and we were really surprised. Wow, what a nice cafe. The prices were reasonable, the meals were delicious, the service was exemplary, the staff were friendly and it had a nice atmosphere.
After tea we headed to the Gecko and started signing up for a bike. We got all the way through the paperwork and they wanted to keep my passport. That just wasn’t going to happen. Reading the small print I had to surrender my passport or the full price of the motorbike, I also had to pay USD$900 if the motorbike was stolen, and many other great things. All this to ride around on a honda step through? No thanks, I’d rather pay a Tuk Tuk driver. A few moments later Michele and I took a Tuk Tuk home and on the way discussed our plans for tomorrow. We decided to hire out the Tuk Tuk for the day and do some sightseeing and at USD $25 with an English speaking guide its quite reasonable.