Monday, March 3, 2008

Cambodia - Siem Reap to Phnom Penh - the boat ride

We bid farewell early in the morning to our host Brandon Ross at Journeys Within where we had spent a great couple of days in our own villa by the pool. We had met a wonderful couple from England who were in the villa across from us. We thank Catherine for all of her homeopathic help for our various medical issues that loomed in the background during our stay there (and we hope the Elephant Woman look is gone for her!).

Our friends the Rices had been in Cambodia at Christmas and had described this fabulous lazy boat ride that they had taken from SR to PP meandering through villages along the way. We must not have been on the same cruise even though it was arranged by the same people.

Our drive to our boat was very interesting in that the road followed the "river" (non-monsoon it was more like a creek) that feeds into Tonle Sap Lake. On the one side of the road was relative opulence from the Cambodian standard and on the river side were total shacks built on stilts positioned above the garbage infested waters. As we got closer to the port things deteriorated further until the shacks were a mere 3meters x 3 meters for an entire extended family without walls and merely a thatched roof over their heads. This is all fine and dandy now, but when the rains come in the monsoon in May they will have little or no protection and the waters will rise about 3-4 metres and be right at their feet filled with who knows what!

As we arrived at the port, we were accosted by porters and women selling bread,cheese and water for the 4-5 hour trip. It was really a miracle that all of our bags somehow miraculously arrived at the other end. We had been so good early in our trip at only having our backpack on wheels ( really not much larger than a large daypack) and a small backpack for our daypack. However, this started to change in India when we shopped a bit to support the local economy and added a bag, and then one more in Thailand and a third in Cambodia. This with our mosquito net bag and our 6 backpacks gave us 10 large bae and about 10 carry ons with computers, cameras, volleyball, waterpolo ball, lunch bags etc.

Our boat was a long torpedo shaped thing that carried about 75 people and we were seated in airplane like seats deep in the bowels of the boat. We were pulled by another boat for the first hour of the journey so the kids and I climbed up on the roof with a bunch of other people. This was done by walking along the 12 inch deck or gunnel that went all the way around the boat and then climbing up these very precarious stairs to the top - handrails - huh!! not likely! John had a recurrence of his bad belly and was lucky to have 3 seats to sleep on. Unfortunately the number of seats he had was triple the number of bathrooms available for him and the others in his same condition on the boat!

Once our boat hit the Tonle Sap lake things changed very quickly. The TS lake is the largest freshwater lake in SE Asia and goes on for a very long way. It covers 2500 square km in the dry season at an average depth of 2 metres. From mid May to the end of October it swells to 13,000 sq km at a depth of 10 metres. The fish it produces is absolutely remarkable and in the port we saw all of the kinds flopping in the boats of the early morning fishermen and women (and children). Once on the lake we passed a floating village which is just that, a complete village entirely comprised of houseboats and market boats and schoolboats. We then picked up speed and scrambled off the slippery roof, down the slippery stairs and along the very slippery gunnels And back into the relative safety of the inside of the boat. I did the miraculous head count as we got inside and breathed a huge sigh of relief when we numbered 5 and John was still where we had left him.

Our 4-5 hour trip was going along well as we cruised at warp speed across the lake. However, once we hit the Mekong river on the other side of the lake, we lost our rudder and drifted aimlessly for a couple of hours until they fixed it. From there it was an agonizing 4 more hours down the river to Phnom Penh, to make the entire trip 8 hours. The gal meeting us at the other end was some kind of pissed as we arrived so late; we were just happy to get there.


No comments: