The Boat to Siem Reap

Siem Reap Travel Blog

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Leaving the city limits behind.
   

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.

The bend most narrow and slow.
m. departure.

 

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.

Farm house along the river.
A couple pulls a net into a flat-bottomed wooden boat while their son of four or five years maneuvers their craft to meet our wake. Others squat side-by-side removing small silver fish from glistening nets. What appear to be empty tennis ball cans arc along the river, marking nets. The Tonle Sap river and lake system supports more than three million people and provides over 75% of Cambodia's annual inland fish catch.

 

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.

Fishermen on the Tonle Sap River.
It is the largest body of freshwater in Southeast Asia. Flooding engulfs a vast area of fields and forests providing a perfect breeding ground for fish. In the coming months, these waters will provide half of that in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. The level is inching down now, we are traveling upstream.  After about three and a half hours we reached the lake.

 

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.

 

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Leaving the city limits behind.
Leaving the city limits behind.
The bend most narrow and slow.
The bend most narrow and slow.
Farm house along the river.
Farm house along the river.
Fishermen on the Tonle Sap River.
Fishermen on the Tonle Sap River.
River scenery
River scenery
Huts nearer the lake
Huts nearer the lake
Typical hut on the Tonle Sap
Typical hut on the Tonle Sap
Family boat
Family boat
Huts near the lake
Huts near the lake
Cruising northwest
Cruising northwest
Riding the fast boat
Riding the fast boat
The fast boat
The fast boat
Off the lake
Off the lake
Approaching the finish line
Approaching the finish line
Siem Reap
photo by: genetravelling