A boat ride like no other: Battambang to Siem Reap, Cambodia

Early morning in the Mekong

After a couple of early nights in friendly Tomato Guesthouse and a small dose of food poisoning the night before, I caught the 7am boat from Battambang to Siem Reap. I had heard lots about this journey, some good, most bad but many just laughed when I told them I was going to spend $20 on a boat trip which I was told may take five or 14 hours, when I could have paid $5 for a five hour bus ride. Anyhow, I thought it would be good to explore Cambodia from the waters of the Mekong

My favourite Cambodian treat – Bamboo Cake

As predicted the boat was full of middle-aged tourists (most backpackers wouldn’t spend this sort of money) and some locals with masses of bags filled with groceries and homewear. First one on, I picked a cushioned seat away from the motor and sat back to enjoy the view over breakfast, an extremely delicious Kralan or bamboo cake as it is otherwise known.

Life on the river

The first hour or two was fascinating as I passed plenty of local fishermen and families travelling or working on the river. I witnessed the lives of locals who live and work on the river, many whom live on houseboats or floating villages which are risen above the ground by stilts to survive in the wet season.

The floating villages of the Mekong

Whole families were crammed into houses and travelled together on tiny motorised boats, it was astonishing that they didn’t topple. Life on the Mekong looked simple and hardworking with many children doing the same jobs as their parents. 

Children shouting “Hello Hello”

Younger children would run along the river bank and shout “hello” whilst waving frantically, something I’ve experienced throughout Cambodia. One of my favourite sights was a make shift mobile phone shop and a Shell garage on the river and wheelchair which had been made from two bicycle wheels tied to a plastic garden chair – genius!

A boat house

Four hours in and I was getting a little uncomfortable but after a quick lunch stop of whatever was in the pot with rice, I was still enjoying the journey. I spent a couple of hours sleeping up on deck before retreating red faced for some much needed shade. During the ride we stopped to pick and drop-off local people and goods along the way, running aground and crashing many times.

One of our many crashes – stupid bush

The boat docked up in the middle of nowhere so I looked for my pick-up which I had organised with my guesthouse. Everyone was jumping into tuk-tuk’s and after half an hour I was getting a little worried. Luckily there was another couple having a similar problem to me and they said that on this day only we had been dropped off at a different location an hours drive out of town. Just my luck I thought. After much persuading, I was forced to join them and pay $5 for the ride into town, a fantastic way to make a little extra money from us tourists!

Left in the middle of nowhere

This left a sour taste in my mouth after what had been a suprisingly enjoyable, if lengthy trip. Here is a summery of my journey in numbers:

  • 30 – the number of minutes the boat was late setting off – let’s be honest it was never going to go on time 
  • 17 – the number of times the boat crashed or ran aground – usually due to bushes or rocks
  • 11 – the number of hours it took in total – door to door
  • 9 – the number of hours we were on the water
  • 6 – the number of times we stopped to pick someone or something up 
  • 5 – the number of times we stopped to drop someone or something off
  • 3 – the number of blog posts written on the boat 
A very scenic tuk tuk ride into town

If you have some time to spare I would certainly recommend the boat trip between Battambang to Siem Reap as it’s a fantastic way to see the Mekong and local life on the river. Just remember to bring something soft to sit on and double check where you are being dropped off before boarding!

Living life, loving travel,

H x

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