The Boat to Battambang

There’s a definite appeal of boating along in the watery world that is Cambodia. The Tonle Sap, a giant lake literally through the heart of the country, is the lifeblood of Cambodian life. Entire villages exist floating on the lake, and there is nary a shoreline or rivers edge without a house alongside it. Before the roads became paved, boats were by far the best way to get around. But times they change, and buses now zip between the major cities in less time and for a fraction of the cost of the boats.

But wanting to have the experience, we opted to take the boat from Siem Reap to Battambang, through floating villages and along some of the most scenic waterways of Cambodia. We were told it would last between five and six hours. And for five hours it was great pretty great. We passed slowly through countless villages along the river banks full of local life. There were floating restaurants, floating shops, floating churches. It was beautiful.

Unfortunately, the boat took 9 hours to get to Battambang. The last three got a little tiring. Beyond the simple notion that you somewhat expect to get there around when you’ve been told you’ll get there, and therefore are only mentally prepared for a certain time, there were a few downsides to the boat. For example seating was simple wood benches. The options for seating were either on these benches in the open air (read: no cooling of any kind) cabin rattling with the sounds of the engine or on the roof of the boat in the hot sun. There were only so many times we could go back and forth before both felt pretty uncomfortable. Throw in a few issues with the propeller and there were a few issues.

So was I happy we did it? Sure. Would I do it again or recommend it? Probably not. Maybe in the very wet season when they claim it only takes three hours to get there since they can go very directly (though I’m sure not sure I’d believe it). And the thing is, there would be very easy things they could do to make the boat so much more comfortable. Like put some padding on the seats. Or put some sound dampening on the engine so that the passengers could have a conversation while the boat was moving. Or even putting a second level with a few seats or some padding and a sunshade. Really easy things that would really make the trip more worthwhile. But I’d definitely recommend getting out to see some floating villages, and preferably the less touristy ones. It’s a pretty beautiful and different way of life.

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