Cambodia is covered by a series of rivers and waterways that was key to the ancient Khmer civilization. It was the transport method, the bringer of more rice harvests, and the road to success and control. These days I’m finding a pleasant place to stroll and a good way to orient your way around every town I’ve been in. To get to Battambang from Siem Reap, I took a boat across the Tonle Sap and into smaller rivers.
In modern times, the roads are much faster than the water ways. In this case it is 1/4 of the price and 1/3 of the time to go by bus. You better love slow boats!
The Tonle Sap is interesting in that half the year water flows into it from the Mekong, but when rainy season hits, the flow goes the other way. I’d like to see that exchange.
I toyed with the idea of going by bus and then doing some kayaking in town. I’m sure the locals think foreigners are nuts. Why would you pay to laboriously row yourself somewhere when you could way less money to get a tuk tuk or motorboat?! Green Orange Kayak and Cafe 11 km out of town is run by the Feda Cambodia NGO and rents out kayaks and guides to those interested. They’re a tad hard to contact by e-mail and I had better luck calling organizer Sokha directly. After a confused motorcycle taxi finally found where I was supposed to be, I set off.
They give you a correctly landmarked but not to scale laminated map. The curves of the river tricked me into thinking I had made both more and less progress than I realized. I’ve only been kayaking for maybe an hour or two before at a time as it isn’t cheap in America. I didn’t realize three hours of kayaking downstream would be such a workout! This is not for the out of shape. Usually I enjoy waving to the various small children, but as I have the arms of a T. Rex, I couldn’t get out of range fast enough and they just would not stop waving and saying hello. It’s more pleasant to exchange fast greetings on a bicycle than screaming hello constantly on the water. I did enjoy the haunting chants I heard from one of the many pagodas I drifted by.
I had a delightful chat with the two young men who helped me get in the kayak and picked me up again in town. They were not pushy at all and almost forgot to collect money from me at the end. If an “authentic rural life” scene is what you are after, I’d say the kayak trip is the choice for the fit or time crunched and the boat ride is for those who like to sit for ten hours at a time. Enjoy it while you can. As road conditions continually increase, a lot of boats have already disappeared and there seem to only be tourists plying the routes these days. Going by water is certainly a gentler and more fun ride for me than by land.