Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Siem Reap to Phnom Penh!! Floating villages and flooded forests!!

I'm sunburnt. I'm tired. I'm in Phnom Penh eating duck and drinking a mango shake… life is good!!  This morning I travelled by boat from Siem Reap which took us south through lake Tonle` Sap and down a river of the same name, towards Phnom Penh.  Lake Tonle` Sap is the lake which fed the expansion of the ancient Khmer empire, much like the Nile did for Egypt.  This lake is remarkable though.  It depletes and floods every year. The water for this flooding comes from the melting snow in the Himalayas. However, and this is the cool bit, as the massive increase of water comes down the Mekong river in the delta, the water bottle necks and flows back up stream, going up the Mekong, then the Tonle` Sap, and flooding up around Siem Reap.  In the process it covers massive forests which provide food for a massive fish population feeding the locals.  When on this lake, there are times you cannot see the shore in any direction.  It truly becomes an inland sea.

There are a few ways to travel between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Private taxi, coach, plane and boat.  Plane is about 80-90 USD and the flight is about 45 minutes. All other ways are about 5-6 hours and vary on price. Boat is 35 dollars, coach about 12, and private taxi is probably around 70 dollars as well.  A lot of travel guides really tore strips off the boat, claiming it was hideously expensive for how long it took claiming the views became monotonous, the boat noisy, and rather unpleasant.  Many suggesting the coach to save money.  I don't think that could be further from the truth.  I mean, the boat wasn't first class by any means, but it provided six hours of fantastic views not only of the Cambodian country side, but Cambodian life.  We saw floating villages, people checking fishing nets, floating schools and restaurants, children swimming. It was fantastic!  The only down side was I didn't put on enough sunscreen!!  

The cool thing about Cambodia is that OH&S hasn't yet discovered this place so you can do whatever you want.  The awesome thing about the boat trip is you don't have to go into the cabin... ever... (well, unless you want to pee).


The best seats are either at the bow or on the roof and you are free to move around so long as you don't disrupt the captains view for too long.  This is a brilliant way to travel!  The wind is in your hair, you get to chat to other travellers, and because you are exposed to the elements I really feel that you get a sense of being connected to the land and environment around you. I mean, would you rather be looking at the view below, or be in a bus?

Floating villages en route to Phnom Penh.

When I first caught this boat about 4 years ago we literally pulled up to Siem Reap and walked a plank to a muddy shore. Now there are proper jetties where street sellers hock their food and beverages before you hit your journey, all claiming there will be no opportunity to buy food or drink on the voyage.  However, you do get provided with a bread roll and can buy coffee, beer, and soft drinks for USD1 the entire trip.  However, if you want some bananas cheese etc, best pick it up before you leave. It all costs less than a dollar.  

Margaret and I

I love being on the water so thats a plus, and boats are just fun to take photo's on!!  So forget what the guidebooks say!  If you think you can get the views and experiences captured in these pictures on a plane, taxi or coach, then go for it!  But the boat will get my vote every time.  

Oh, and the final selling point.  Last time I was here I did catch the bus one way.  It was six hours long on a pot holed road.  The toilet on the bus was in a small cabin under the seats.  Just so I can paint the picture, think of this.  You need to go to the toilet terribly! There are four more hours to go, with no stops.  You go downstairs and climb through a small door to the toilet.  On the bus, travelling along a pot holed road, throwing you from side to side, is a squat toilet... Fuck... That!  You could have a beer and do this instead!!

We pulled into port (see how I talk like a seaman now!) around 1:30pm, after departing at 8:00am, and made our way to find some digs.  We are staying at Hotel Cambodiana which, is about 3.5 - 4 stars. It nice, just rough around the edges, though probably not good value.  The view is incredible though, especially before 7:00am as the sun is rising. Our room has a view over the pool and the Mekong river. Its a little bit magic.  After checking in we headed out for lunch, which is quite nice. I ordered a roast duck salad which tasted very American to be honest (too much mayo, too much sauce), but was still nice.  Along the walls are A4 pieces of paper from people visiting from all corners of the globe.  Quite a clever idea really. So, if you want to leave your mark in Phnom Penh, make you way to Khmer Saravan.  It's right on the river front.

The wall of Khmer Saravan - messages from all over the world!

I think thats enough writing for one day! 

Until tomorrow,


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