Back in May, I was on a tour in Cambodia, and we traveled for several hours in a very simple motorboat from Battambang to Siem Reap. I wrote a bit about this earlier. Now I’ve posted the photos — see the slideshow to get a sense of life along the river in northern Cambodia.
This was not a standard tourist excursion, but it’s typical for trips with Intrepid Travel. I like their low-budget, low-impact, highly local approach to group travel. There were only eight people in our group. No big buses, no crowd scenes. The boat ride was long, hot, and not terribly comfortable — but it was fabulous. We got to see people in their normal environment, working on boats and in the padi fields. We saw dozens of cattle, boats, and small children who shouted “Hello!” and waved when they spotted us.
I was struck by how small and simple most of the houses were, especially in comparison to the huge shining wats (Buddhist temples) in their midst. Some of the houses were temporary, constructed for the rice harvest. The annual flood was near, and some families had already packed all their belongings onto long, low wooden boats and were moving on to their rainy-season homes somewhere else. We saw motorbikes and bicycles lashed to the boats (which aren’t all that big). We also saw multiple boats strung together, floating in line like a mother duck and her ducklings.
From Battambang, we traveled by river to the Tonlé Sap, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and something of an ecological marvel — during the monsoon, the lake grows in size from 2,700 sq. km. to 16,000 sq. km., as the Tonlé Sap River reverses its flow. Water from the Mekong is pushed into the lake in the process. There is great concern that dam projects in China will effect this process, which is vital to rice production in Cambodia.
To view the trip itinerary, see this page at Intrepid.