We left Battambang headed for Siem Reap on the Angkor Express – a “modern” wooded boat that had seats for about 30 with room for another 15 or so on the top and plenty of room for bags of rice, boxes of beer, live chickens, cartons of cigarettes and many other unidentifiable boxes and bags.
The passengers were mostly Westerners – German college students, English and Swedish gap year travelers, a couple photographers and some adventurous families. There were also more than a few local folks that we dropped off at countless floating villages where family members met the boat on canoes and transferred people and goods.
The boat also came equipped with a bathroom for the 7 hour ride which turned into an 8+ hr journey after some hairy negotiating of some narrow, unmapped streams that were seemingly too small for the boat. Our waterway was the Sangkae river which ultimately flows into the Tonle Sap lake. Every rainy season (May to October), the main navigation routes change significantly depending on the flow and levels of the much larger Mekong River. This year’s route did not disappoint.
The pictures do not fully explain the experience. The boat squeezed through a water way just deep and wide enough to make it through. We were thrashed for an hour by branches of dense mangrove trees and bushes, dumping leaves, twigs and bugs all over the boat and forcing us to hang in the middle isle of the boat. More than a few times were got lodged on the banks or bottom, but eventually we emerged, albeit a bit delayed.
The floating villages were amazing and prevalent throughout the day. In addition to homes, they also include “convenient stores”, restaurants, crocodile farms, floating pigsties. They also included temples complete with buddist monks chanting their dharmas over load speakers for anyone on the river to hear (very surreal).
Post landing, we had about a 25km dirt ride through rice fields to our hotel in downtown Siem Reap city.