Many tourists consider it a romantic notion to travel to Siem Reap by boat from Battambang in Cambodia.
Faced with the prospect of enduring a five to seven hour ferry ride from Battambang to Siem Reap, squashed into a plastic chair big enough for an infant and squeezed between forty nine other tourists or perched in a lotus position on the ferry rooftop, I chose the latter.
The twenty-odd metre long ferry is at most three to four meters wide, contains a cubicle toilet and accommodates some fifty people. Designed to seat Asians significantly smaller than most westerners the ferry, when full, has a sardine-can feel to it. That many tourists consider it a romantic notion to travel to Siem Reap by boat means the ferry is both popular and over-worked.
Young boys jump into the Sangkae river (Stung Sangkae) in Battambang, Cambodia
The sun, a great big red ball, clawed its way through the haze and early morning mist painting the sky a pastel shade of orange, and visually bringing warmth to the chilly early morning city of Battambang. The sun’s rays cast orange tendrils of light down the shadowy streets, bringing the city to life.
Somewhere, far off, a bell rang while nearer sounds were of roller shutter doors being opened, chairs and tables being unstacked and laid out and scooters and tuk-tuk’s being throttled into life.
Kim Hout, our designated Tuk-Tuk driver, rescued us from the melee of pushing, bawling drivers and plonked us, baggage and all, in the sanctity of his neatly covered, sparklingly clean Tuk-Tuk. In Battambang, Cambodia.
It seemed like a good idea to travel to Battambang from Phnom Penh by local bus, after all, it was cheap ($7) and our bussing experiences in Vietnam had been positive. Little did we know.
Battambang, or Bah dembong, is the capital of Battambang province and is tucked away in the north west corner of Cambodia. It is, according to the guidebooks, well known as the leading rice-producing region of Cambodia.
On Sothearos Boulevard, near Sisowath Quay, is the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
On Sothearos Boulevard, near Sisowath Quay, is the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. Ornate, gilded and with classic Khmer roof structures (I’m told), it is a striking contrast to the stark, austere monuments to the Khmer Rouge atrocities and bears a resemblance to its counterpart in Bangkok.
Torture room at S-21or Sleng Genocide Museum in central Phnom Penn, Cambodia
No visit to Cambodia would be complete without a visit to, and appreciation of, the Killing Fields and Genocide Museum (aka S-21) in Phnom Penh. It may seem unnecessary to do so, maybe even morbid, but as I was to find out it really gave me an appreciation of, and empathy for, the people and their spirit here in Cambodia.
Sisowath Quay in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Once known as the Pearl of Asia, today’s Phnom Penh is vibrant. A city filled with young people embracing a modern lifestyle. They’re slick, chic and technologically up-to-date. Mobile phones are de riguer. They have smart buzz bikes and dress beautifully and trendily. Much new construction is afoot – new malls, high-rise apartment blocks … the Pearl of Asia resurrects.
Dawn on the Mekong river, Vietnam
There are two ferry options when leaving Chau Doc for Phnom Penh. There’s the “slow boat” which takes eight hours and the “fast boat” taking five. Of course, these time frames are approximations and either boat generally takes longer than the marketed time. We choose the “fast boat” in case the other ends up in China.
Fish stall in the market at Chau Doc, Vietnam
If Can Tho is the gateway to the Mekong, then Chau Doc is its pulsating heart. With an estimated population of one hundred and twenty thousand it is a giddy blend of Cham, Vietnamese, Khmer and Chinese communities. Situated on the banks of the Bassac river it is a frontier town bordering Cambodia and a popular river crossing between Vietnam and Cambodia.
On board the Battambang to Siem Reap ferry, Cambodia
“Sightseeing is one of the more doubtful aspects of travel … It has all the boredom and ritual of a pilgrimage and none of the spiritual benefits.” Paul Theroux
If you, like me, travel regularly for images, stories and that something different then endurance is your goal. And sightseeing is part and parcel of the exercise, well for freelance photographers it is. Both travel and sightseeing (or tourism if you wish) involve prodigious amounts of walking but equally significant use being made of man-made means of transport. And therein lies the need for an ability to endure lest you lose your mind and commit mass-murder or some equally heinous crime.
Long tail boat on the Mekong river, Vietnam
Despite the effort of getting up early to be collected from the hotel at 515am, “mellow” is the theme for the day. At the Can Tho waterfront we’re greeted by a chunky, pudgy, squat, strong women with a hugely disarming smile that she flashes with regularity displaying a healthy set of gums and teeth. Her round face is open, charming and delightful. The supposed wife of the little man who sold us the boat tickets she is purported to speak “50% English”. Turns out it is more like 5% with “hello, taxi, toilet and coffee” being her repertoire. Good enough for me.