A spectacular boat trip to Battambang
We got up early this morning for the river trip to Battambang. This seems to be one of the most scenic boat tours in Cambodia. Around a quarter past 6, a minibus picks us up. We stop at a couple guesthouses and hotels and drive fully loaded to the departure quay. When we arrive there, we are overwhelmed by a horde of very young salesclerks who offer breakfast packages stalled at small tables. That comes handy because we didn’t have time to eat this morning. The assortment consists of a sandwich, some bananas and a piece of cheese spread.
Sharing breakfast with young beggars
The boat itself is a lot more pleasant than the one we took from Phnom Penh; though more primitive, it has open windows, and above all, there is more legroom. Once seated, we immediately start consuming our breakfast. Some young beggars lean against the outer wall of the boat. I have a hard time to eat breakfast myself while these hungry eyes are staring at us, so I share some of my cookies with them.
Narrow fairways and picturesque villages
The first part of our river trip to Battambang goes over Tonle Sap lake, similar to when you fare from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. But about an hour later we ascend the Stung Sankae river, and the spectacle begins. Picturesque fishing villages are interspersed with – at times very – narrow fairways. On the way, we are waved continuously by children. I always wave back, so they note they are being seen; this can only promote their attitude towards Westerners.
Protect yourself from swinging stems during the river trip to Battambang
About halfway during our river trip to Battambang, we stop in a village. Typically the Cambodian guides go ashore but don’t tell us anything. I also get off the boat, and the rest of the group follows more or less. After this interlude, we navigate further along narrow channels: the branches of the trees and shrubs in the water regularly swing over the roof and past the open windows. More than once I have to use my arm in order not to get stems in my face.
Navigating past fishing nets
The last part of this river trip to Battambang we sail along many small, one-person fishing boats which try to catch fish with nets marked by floating plastic bottles. Our boat navigates carefully through these nets, regularly slows down, as to avoid damaging any of them.
Enjoying Cambodian dishes
The same scenario awaits us upon arrival in Battambang as when we came to Siem Reap. The boat has not yet docked, or the touts of the hotels have already stormed in to recruit customers for their business. Quite a lot of tourists have opted for the same hotel as we did. Before we realize, we drive to the hotel once again in a fully occupied minibus. After checking in, my travel partner and I immediately go to the roof terrace of the hotel to have lunch. Again the meal is delicious; for sure, Cambodian food is one of the highlights of this trip.
Watching the lead-up of a boat race
After lunch, we stroll around the street along the Sangkae river. We enter a few shops with beautiful sculptures: I spot an incredibly beautiful Ganesh statue, made of stone, and I have to restrain myself from buying it. Further on we pay a quick visit to the Museum of Battambang. On the river, people are preparing for a boat race. Several teams launch their boat or tow it back ashore.
An invitation by a Buddhist student
Afterward, we visit two modern temples. At the second one, a young Buddhist monk approaches us. He tries to practice his English; his pronunciation is not always clear, but practice makes perfect. After a while, he invites us to his room. His name is Lon Luang, 24 years old and of Thai origin. He is following a Buddhist education here. His roommate, 19, joins us, followed afterward by another non-monk, Visal, 17. We talk about our travel plans, our profession and so on. Our friendly conversation is not always easy. What strikes us most is how little they know about our western way of life. At the end, when my partner and I say goodbye, Lon Luang asks to take a photo. I promise to send it to him by post. Hopefully, he will receive the picture.
The consequences of the Khmer Rouge war
At the entrance of the restaurant where we have dinner lies a one-legged beggar, another Khmer Rouge war victim. Apparently, he regularly gets some leftovers to eat while he quietly watches TV — what a harsh life. We round off the evening with a beer on the terrace of the hotel. Tomorrow we will make a day trip in the area of Battambang, and then we will return to the capital.