Sunday, November 14, 2004

The Ferry Ride

Ok, so here's the ferry ride I took from Siem Reap to Battambang...

The pickup truck came around right on schedule at about 5:30 am. I was the fifth person on board and they tied my bike to the back of the cab and loaded my bags. There were seats along the sides of the bed and our gear was stacked in the middle. We drove around picking up a couple people here, a couple people there. A couple more people. I believe about 15 total between the cab (extended) and bed. Plus all of our bags. By Cambodian standard we had it quite luxurious. Most Cambodians travel around in the back of pickups, 20-30 people crammed in. I've seen people riding on the hoods of trucks, standing on the running boards, sitting in the trunks of cars. The wealthier Cambodians have their own motorbikes, which can hold a family of five.

We then go along the road which turns into a one lane extension onto an embankment in the river / lake. It's the Siem Reap River, but the Tonle Sap (Lake) backs up in the wet season flooding the surrounding fields. So it's basically a narrow strip of land they call a road, with stilt houses and the occasional market lining the sides. We get dropped off when our pickup can't get an further along the road. So at this point, I have to load my bike up and push it along through a massive traffic jam consisting of a very large truck, lots of motos and bicycles, and hundreds of people. All seemingly going the exact opposite way that I'm going. After a good kilometer plus, I finally reach the "dock." Basically just a couple of boats tied up alongside the embankment.

We eventually get the boat loaded and head down the river / lake. Kind of like floating through a flooded forest. Submerged trees formed a channel for our boat as we winded are way down to the lake. Once we cleared the trees, our boat stalled and the waves on the lake began rocking us back and forth. At this point, I noticed that there were no life preservers on the roof of the boat, were I was sitting. Scanning the nearby "coastline" (just more submerged trees) I began calculating how far I'd have to swim if we started going down. Fortunately, I was able to hang on to the railings as we plunged back forth across the waves and the engine was soon restarted.

It was a short foray across the lake as we then entered the river / lake to Battambang. More submerged trees and numerous stilted and floating Vietnamese villages. They even have temples that are built on stilts. Lots of little children swimming in the river (which didn't look too enticing at first, but after 4 or 5 hours in that heat was quite tempting). After several hours of winding through this channel between tree limbs, we finally hit a much wider area of the river. Gradually, the shores of the river emerged and almost 7 hours after we left Siem Reap, we made it to Battambang.

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