The Boat to Siem Reap
Siem Reap Travel Blog› entry 24 of 62 › view all entries
Though the ceiling fan in 302 hummed at high speed, air did not stir across my bed and I woke at 3:30 in the morning drenched in sweat. I had intended to spend two nights in Phnom Penh but decided to remain awake, shower, check out by 5:30, and make my way along the quiet and cool, deserted pre-dawn streets toward the waterfront. I found coffee and a cheese baguette across the street from the boat terminal and ordered another, with ham, to go. The six hour fast boat to Siem Reap has no food or water on board. I paid for the $25 ticket then settled onto the roof of the sleek white boat by 6:45. Twenty of us perched up there as the diesel engines rattled to life and mooring lines were untied for our 7:00 a.
We traveled northward along the Tonle Sap River. It took a long while to clear the more developed Phnom Penh stretch of the river. Warehouses, docks, homes, and temples finally gave way to rich green forests and just a few scattered towns and fishing villages; rickety huts high on stilts. White arrows on tall trees led us through the most narrow waters where the captain slowly rounded bends with the air horns alternately blasting in rapid sequence. The further north we progressed, the riverbank became lower and lower.
Life along the Tonle Sap looks rough and remote. Rows of houseboat shacks stretch nets to rows of other raft-like platforms, then again to another like a rectangular floating island.
Carts drawn by white oxen or cows had indicated an occasional road but as we neared the lake, land became scarce and the fishing shacks became more remote and crude. The waterline on nearby trees showed how close to the floors of stilted huts the lake level had risen. During the monsoon rains from June to November, the Tonle Sap reverses its flow and water is pushed up from the Mekong River into Tonle Sap Lake. The lake peaks at about 16,000 square kilometers and reaches a depth of nine meters.
I peeled the aluminum foil from my ham and cheese baguette as land and trees drifted farther and farther away until they disappeared altogether. An occasional fishing boat or far off treeline caught our eye but the open water ride seemed long. The mid-day sun was intense. About half an hour before reaching it, a high hill came into view and our water trip would come to an end near its base.