Saturday, 17 March 2012

Battambang to Siem Reap (or vice-versa) by Boat

Dawn departure
When planning our two-week trip around Cambodia, it was important for me to include this journey as I'd read that it is the most beautiful boat trip in the country, but which direction to do it in?  I read one account which suggested it was better to go from Battambang to Siem Reap rather than the othern way.  It didn't really explain why, but I decided to follow the advice and I'm glad I did - it's definitely the best direction to do the journey in!  A boat is scheduled to leave each city at 7am every day.  By leaving from Battambang, you see the busiest part of the river at the busiest time of the day and you pass through all of the floating villages when the inhabitants are most occupied - fishing, cooking, cleaning, shopping, bathing, doing their laundry, etc.  Later in the day, there is much less to see as everyone is taking a siesta.

A boy and his boat!
The fare for the trip is $20 and it is scheduled to take anything from six hours to ten hours depending on the time of the year and the water levels.  We made the journey on January 20th, mid-way through the dry season, and it took eight hours.  The route is said to remain navigable year-round, but I really wouldn't want to make the trip any later in the season as, at times, the water level was incredibly low.  We had to inch our way through certain parts of the river and actually ran aground twice.  At one point, I was facing backwards taking a picture when I heard a warning shout and turned round just in time to be poleaxed in the chest by a very large branch as we ran aground!  No lasting damage, but I was seriously winded and sustained some colourful bruises!

House boats
The manager of our hotel in Battambang told us that the boat trip was very beautiful and memorable - he was right.  He also said that it was only for tourists and that no local person would use the boat - he was wrong!  What he should have said was that no local person would go the whole distance, but that many local people would use the boat to transport themselves, their shopping, their children, their animals, several sacks of rice and assorted cardboard boxes from the city back to their homes in the floating villages!

Daily life on the river
As I said, the boat is scheduled to leave at 7am and we were duly delivered to the landing stage (a very precarious and very long flight of metal steps leading from the top of the river bank to the water a long way below) by the hotel tuk-tuk at 6.50am.  We had our hotel-supplied packed lunch with us, had our tickets checked and were shown aboard.  Our case was thrown on the roof and we made our way past the rows of cramped, uncomfortable-looking seats for two in the boat's interior, to the benches at the back of the boat where we believed we would have more space, more air and would be better placed to take photos both to the sides and the rear of the boat.  Well, two out of three isn't bad!!  It was certainly airier with a nice breeze blowing across the back of the boat for the entire journey.  There were definitely plenty of photo opportunities, too, as 754 snaps in eight hours surely testifies to!!  As for the extra space, though, no .... this wasn't to be!  When we first boarded, all of the other western tourists occupied the seats inside and we were the only ones on the benches at the back, but, as the scheduled departure time came and went, more and more locals boarded and came to 'our' area.  By the time we finally left, at 7.45am, we had been squashed into a corner and were surrounded by several Cambodian families along with their shopping, their luggage and their food for the journey.
It must be the dry season!

For me, though, it turned out to be the best place to be.  The eight-hour journey whizzed by.  We were totally enthralled, not only by the activity on the river and its banks, but also by the goings-on inside the boat.  And, as people got off when we came to their villages, we were able to spread out and take full advantage of our position.
Floating village

A thoroughly enjoyable journey which I would recommend to anyone.  You can see the photos here. 

Top Tip: Take plenty of drinks and snacks with you as there is no opportunity to buy anything en route.

5 comments:

  1. Thank you for writing this up, im also convince that we should take the boat ride from Battambang to Siem Raep, there is very little information on the boat ride especially the time, will plan to take this ride soon!

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  2. marilyn willwohl8 November 2013 at 01:12

    Thank you this has been most helpful for planning our trip. We want to do this journey on 19 January 2014. How can we book the trip?

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    1. Hi Marilyn, thanks for reading! The best way to book the trip is to do it once you are there, either through a local agent or your hotel. You can buy tickets the day before. Good luck - I'm sure you'll have a fabulous time!!

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    2. marilyn willwohl3 February 2014 at 01:09

      Hi Andrea - we did the trip - it was fantastic. Our hotel in Battambang got the tickets and arranged a tuk tuk to take us down to the boat. Just an update the boat now stops at roughly the half way point in one of the floating villages where you can buy cold drinks, biscuits, crisps etc and a simple hot rice dish for $1. Some things never change the 7am boat still leaves at 7:45!! Thanks for your advice it really helped.

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    3. Hi Marilyn - really happy to hear that you enjoyed the trip!! I could do with some Cambodian warmth right now - we're living back in the UK for a while!!

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