Bruised Bottoms to Battambang


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There are two ways to get to Battambang from Siem Reap: 1) bus on reliable roads, 5 to 6 hours or 2) boat on less than reliable waterways, 5 to 10 hours. We chose the boat option, having read that the journey along Tonle Sap Lake is the best water trip in Cambodia, where beautiful scenery and active floating villages accompany you most of the way.

Tonle Sap Lake - Battambang, Cambodia
Tonle Sap Lake – En Route to Battambang

The night before we took the boat, Dan received an email from a friend who had taken the same journey a year ago with her mother. From the email, we gathered that the highlights of their trip included arriving to an already overloaded boat, numerous breakdowns along the way, including one where the crew took the motor apart on the roof of the boat. Her mother saved the day, pulling out a full-sized monkey wrench out of her daypack, which was apparently just what was needed to repair the motor. They made it, eventually.

Our Experience

We were picked up at 6 AM at our guesthouse. The driver arrived with a pick-up truck already brimming with people and luggage, and managed to squeeze us and three others, and our luggage somewhere on the tail end of the sagging truck. All good, we thought, until another stop where four others waited. The driver insisted they join the back of the truck. He motioned as if to say “no problem” but these folks were sensible and and hailed a taxi to follow the truck to the pier instead.

The pier is located on the outskirts of Siem Reap, past fishing villages and tucked away in an inlet. The smell in the villages leading up to the dock was pungent, like poverty and rotten fish stewed to the point of putrefaction. Anyone familiar with the movie Silence of the Lambs remembers the scene with the body in the morgue. As the body bag gets pulled away, the characters swoon at the stench. This was one of those moments, but we had to endure it without the aid of smelling salts. This was a bit more than most of us could take at 6 AM. We couldn't imagine living in it full time, filling our lungs with the smell of death.

Boarding the boat was nothing exceptional, for us. We were one of the first trucks to arrive at the pier, so seats inside were plentiful. Others were relegated to the top deck to bake in the sun. And while we appreciated the shelter from the sun, our bums were quickly aching from the hard benches even curiously harder cushions.

Kids on a Floating House - Battambang, Cambodia
Just Hanging Out – En Route to Battambang

The reason everyone takes the boat is to see the many floating villages and communities on the Tonle Sap lake near Siem Reap, complete with electricity, TV, schools and churches. People get around everywhere by boat, with boats carrying kids to school, selling breakfast soups and all manner of goods. We saw floating churches, but the Buddhist temples always always seemed to be securely fixed on land.

A large number of ethnic Vietnamese also live here. Many came to Cambodia after 1979 when the Vietnamese helped overthrow the Khmer Rouge. We were told that since they are not full Cambodians, they can't own land. As a result, they build their homes and businesses at the margin – in this case, the water.

Bruised Bottoms

Full Truck - Battambang, Cambodia
Our Truck, Almost Full – En Route to Battambang

Since we were traveling in the dry season (February), the water level in the river wasn't high enough to allow us to make the entire trip to Battambang by boat. Eventually, the longtail motor, apparently accustomed to turning heavy mud, became bogged down with trees and water weeds. After eight hours on the boat, 20+ of us got in the back of a pick-up truck for the remainder of the journey, some 90 minutes over washed out ruts passing as roads. Our driver managed an impressive, yet bouncy ride through steep craters and pits. Burdened with loosely strapped bags and weary passengers, our truck listed heavily sideways, testing its rollover tolerance with each obstacle. Our asses were sore and we were alien-like, covered in brown dust. But our truck didn't tip over and we eventually arrived in Battambang…and were thrilled to do so in one piece.

Photo Essay: Boat Trip from Siem Reap to Battambang

Video: Life on Tonle Sap Lake

About Daniel Noll
Travel and life evangelist. Writer, speaker, storyteller and consultant. Connecting people to experiences that will change their lives. Originally from the U.S. Daniel has lived abroad since 2001 and most recently has been on the road since 2006. When he's not writing for the blog you can keep up with his adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And you can learn more about him on the About Page and on LinkedIn.

12 thoughts on “Bruised Bottoms to Battambang”

  1. How did you integrate lengthy text and movie? We have 500 pages of text
    and 1 hour of movie I’d like to integrate. Is there a platform that allows you to do this? The text and the movie are on a computer but the movie is on Pinnacle’s Studio 9 and the text is on Word Perfect 10. I’ve found that you can combine Word and Office’s Power Point but that didn’t seem as good as what you have done.

    John Ewing

    Reply
  2. @john: Sounds like a difficult task. Back when our pocket camera took .avi videos, we used Windows Movie Maker on a PC. Now that the latest version of our pocket camera takes .mov, we use iMovie on the Mac. Based on what you have described, there will be a lot of manual work involved in creating titles and captions. I’m not aware of any way to effectively automate what you have described. Good luck.

    Reply
  3. Hey guys! I was googling the boat ride from Siam Reap to Battembang, as I may be taking it tomorrow and was thrilled to see you guys had already taken this little trip you might call an adventure. It’s rainy season now so maybe we’ll have better luck 😉 It sure can’t be worse that my ferry experiences in Malawi!!

    Reply
  4. @Ernel: Glad you enjoyed the video. Hope you had a good time in Siem Reap and Battambang!

    @Laura: Hope you have a good boat ride tomorrow and that your boat makes it a bit further to Battambang. Have a great time in Battambang and try to take a day to go out into the countryside on the back of a motorbike. Also, the cooking class at “Smoking Pot” is great – a morning visit to the market followed by cooking several dishes in the afternoon. Used to be a great value at around $8. Enjoy!

    Reply
  5. Audrey,

    We actually bypassed the boat and took the bus. But we had a blast in Battambang. We did a cooking class at a newer place called Nari Kitchen and it was so good and also visited some nearby temples. Did you do the bamboo train ride while you were there? It was fun!

    Reply
  6. You have to expect a few hiccups along the way! The boat trip is all about the journey; That’s what makes it memorable. We had an overloaded transfer come and pick us up an hour later than planned. And yes, the boat was full – but they still managed to pack in a few locals that were transporting goods for other locals along the way. And yep, our boat broke down for an hour because the rudder didn’t seem to be working – but it was no big deal – everyone had a laugh and a good chat while we were stalled. The boat took about 11 hours (rather than the 6 – 8 guideline), and the people on the roof got a little wet, but we made it to the destination – and that was never in doubt.
    For me this was part of the experience – if you want luxury it’s obviously not the right choice for you!

    Reply
  7. @Kate: This boat trip is definitely about the journey! Glad to hear you had an adventurous journey there, but made it to Battambang safely. And yes, if you want luxury (or a fixed schedule) this boat is definitely not for you.

    Reply
  8. Hi there, great blog! The boat trip sure is great. Lots of amazing things to see on the trip to Siem Reap. The floating villages are beautiful!

    Reply

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