Siem Reap to Battamabang the journey. Boat the preferred mode of transport.
It didn’t start well! Told to be in the lobby at 6.30 am we dutifully woke the kids at ungodly o’clock and headed down laden with luggage plus provisions for the day ahead.
An hour later and we were still in said lobby waiting for our pick up.
It finally arrived and we piled in, sitting smug as a group of 5 plus 2 others in a 15 seater minibus.
Our smuggness was ill placed as a few yards further on we stopped to pick up another 20 plus passengers plus their luggage. A super bolshy Cambodian woman ordered people to move up, shuffle along, sit 2 to a seat in an attempt to squeeze us all in like sardines in a can, the process made all the more entertaining by a rather stroppy Swedish woman yelling about how her ass was too fat to sit in the gap even Grace would have struggled to wiggle in to.
Finally we were squashed in and ready to go – a 20 minute bus journey to the ‘port’ followed by a mad scramble down a metal gangplank, a fight with super bolshy Cambodian woman over tickets and a whole host of shattered illusions for Darryl (thought the boat would be twice as wide), Emily (imagined it would be a luxury cruise liner complete with Jane MacDonald style cabaret) and Grace (declared the water a swamp, not a river, with more than hint of disdain in her voice).
We got 5 seats together and settled in for a day of cruising the waterways of Cambodia. The first few hours passed in relative peace – we slowly passed floating villages, observing life lived at a different pace and in the process waving our arms off at everyone we passed. We read, listened to music, ate, drank and were generally merry.
20 miles out from Battambang it was time for a pitstop at a floating shop/cafe (there’s a toilet story here but I’m saving that for another blog) and then we were off again. Or at least in theory we were. I’d been warned by friends that the river was too low to pass through in a boat but the hotel and boat company had assured us it was fine.
3 1/2 hours later, we were approximately 3 miles further down the river having spent the time zigzagging from one episode of grounding to the next. At various junctures punting poles were employed, a brief pause was taken for crew members to strip to t shirt and boxers, jump in the water and bash at the propeller and do lots of shouting, everyone was ordered to the back of the boat in order to get the front unstuck, passengers were enlisted to add weight to the punting pole and also to jump in the water and manually shift the boat along with mr T Shirt & boxers and a general comedy of errors ensued.
Eventually we were met by another man stripped to his undies wading through the shallow river to guide us to the awaiting rescue crew on the opposite bank.
A chain gang was arranged to offload the luggage up the steep bank and onto the back of the waiting trucks whilst the rest of the passengers scrambled ashore and up onto our transportation for the final 16 miles of the journey, pick up trucks.
As if being showered with dust and bashed by trees as we bumped along the red dirt track through field after field weren’t enough, we periodically hit dips worthy of a dirt bike trail with our driver expertly navigating the almost vertical downward drop and similar uphill climbs as we clung on for grim death.
Sadly, the final dip proved too much for our trusty 4by4 and its expert driver thanks to an irrigation channel running through the bottom of the dip. Traction was lost and everyone was order off the truck to push. Suffice to say there were some extremely muddy feet that clambered back onto the pickup for the final leg which thankfully soon saw us on tarmaced roads.
We arrived in Battambang exhausted and achy but exhilarated by a bonkers adventure which we celebrated by jumping straight into the hotel pool and in the process turning it a lovely shade of rusty brown.