Wednesday 7 March 2012

A Packed Boat to Battambang

The boat ride from Siem Reap to Battambang sounded like a potentially great trip. We looked forward to travelling the Tonle Sap Lake and Sangker River by slow boat to take in the landscape, but when booking tickets all we could find was a fast boat.

The View from Tonle Sap Lake

We shouldn't have worried about speed. Turns out the fast boat was actually a very slow boat, with seating consisting of two long, hard benches facing each other. After jamming several overcrowded vans of tourists with several scooters worth of locals onto an already full boat, it far exceeded the number of passengers it was meant for, with many people forced to find space on the roof of the small, flimsy boat, exposed to the hot sun. With about 40 people, the boat sat very low in the water.

The ride was a long one; what we thought was going to be a four or five hour journey ended up being over eight hours with only one brief stop at a floating village for lunch (and to deposit bodily wastes through a square hole in the floor to the, uh, irrigation supply). Needless to say, we were quite sore by the end of it. Despite the discomfort levels though, the scenery was fascinating. Tonle Sap Lake was like a vast inland sea dotted with fishing boats and lined with villages of floating wooden houses.

A lone Fisherman - Tonle Sap Lake

The water level was low due to the dry season, but luckily we were able to make it through the shallow canal. Children swimming in the water enjoyed the free wave that came in the boat's wake, which also caused schools of fish to leap metres into the air before splashing back into the murky river.

Boat Ride on Tonle Sap Lake

Tonle Sap Lake

We passed many more floating villages along the river, where men tended to nets, women browsed among floating shops, and every child called out "Hellooo!" waving shyly at first, then more excitedly as we responded, waving back from the boat.

Fishing Nets - Tonle Sap Lake

Kids Waving on the Sangker River

Arriving in Battambang, we were well scorched from the oppressive heat of the day by the time we reached our top floor hotel room. But looking out the window we could see clouds gathering. Could it be? Yep, that was definitely lightning. I hoped it would rain. It had been well over a month since we had seen any rain.

Storm Clouds Gather at Battambang

Then the sky dropped its guts. I mean it absolutely bucketed down. Rain poured in all directions, and in ten minutes the dusty streets of Battambang had transformed from parched to flooded. I was able to take this shot from the balcony of our hotel just moments before the wind changed direction to hurl stinging raindrops into my face. This is not some fancy Photoshop trickery. What you are looking at is heavy rain. So beat that Christian Fletcher, a real textured overlay.

Heavy Rains at Battambang

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