An adventure with a breathtaking backdrop: Taking a boat from Battambang to Siem Reap and spending a horrible night
The main reason why I visited Battambang was, that I wanted to take a boat from here to Siem Reap. In some travel blogs I have read about how unique and extraordinary the journey should be.
The ticket was rather expensive at $20, however was supposed to be worth the the 7-10h (!!) ride 😅 . I was curious and was looking forward to the adventure.
Yesterday I looked at where the jetty of the ship in Battambang is. Except for a small shed and a temporary staircase there was not much. Well ok then.
Departure by boat was set at 07: 00hrs. I left my Hostel at 06:15hrs with my luggage. The walk to the jetty took about 15 minutes.
Of course, when I arrived at the jetty, the Swiss was again the first one on the spot 🙄 One should stay true to the clichés.
At about 07:30hrs all were finally on board and the ship started. We were about 20 tourists and a little less locals on board. The journey by boat is still a secret amongst tourists. As the journey is not cheap, many backpackers choose to travel by bus. Which, however, is supposedly a lot less pretty.
At Battambang, the shore was still lined with normal huts. However, the longer the journey took, the more water villages we crossed. The scenery was almost surreal. To see how people live somewhere out in the nowhere, in a huge water landscape on the water in stilt houses is unbelievable. Where do people get their food from? Well, an option is via the ship we were traveling on. The ship had loaded a lot of food, which were unloaded repeatedly on along the way. One reason why the ride took so long.
On the way we were again and again cheered and called by the children with enthusiasm.
After about 3hours into the ride we stopped for lunch in one of those water villages. In a small kiosk-like raft there was rice with vegetables/sweet/sour.
Further along the ride, the captain suddenly headed for a very narrow river. Dar River was now only a few inches wider than the ship (which was 3m wide and 12m long). In addition, on both sides high dense bushes were now surrounding the boat. Completely unexpectedly us sitting on the roof, had to completely lie down on our backs, for us not to be wiped into the river by the branches. This ended in a fairly hectic situation and great laughter. Nobody expected something like that 😅. Apparently, the boat is above the bushes and trees during the rainy season, that’s how big is the difference in water level is depending on the season.
The hours passed, farther past water villages, countless lotus blossoms and surreal landscapes.
During the last hour of our journey we crossed Tonle Sap Lake.
The horizon was so flat, and the sky seemed endless. Tiny objects were blurred in the distance. Fishing boats shimmered, hard to grasp, as did the smooth fish they wanted to catch. I felt like I was somewhere far out in the ocean.
Slowly but surely the shore moved closer. A hill appeared on the horizon. A sign that we approached Siem Reap.
After an 8h boat ride we were sure happy to have reached Siem Reap. There was already a bunch of TukTuk drivers waiting for the new arrivals. The peace and reverie of the river were behind us, but by no means forgotten.
The TukTuk ride to my hostel took about 20 minutes. In order to save money, I had chosen a particularly cheap ($ 1.50 per night) hostel, which, however, seemed to shine through its great reviews. Seemed 🙄 The hostel is a family business. Very small. The owners’ babies playing in the yard. The little boy, without diapers and pants, peeing wherever it suited him.
Once I arrived in the hostel, I was just standing there a bit lost. Nobody seemed to care about my arrival. Somewhat reluctantly a lady (apparently the owner) did the check-in with me. When showing me the room I was again really put off. The room was incredibly stuffy and smelly. I had been assigned a bed upstairs in the bunk bed. Which was wonderful, because the heat rises 😣 The room was without air conditioning, which was ok at that price. However, all the fans in the room were broken too. The stinky stifling air made it almost impossible for me to fall asleep. Hardly in bed, I was drenched dripping wet. Sometime around 02:00hrs in the morning, I was on my phone watching some Netflix, I suddenly heard a bang. A biting smell rose in my nose and I noticed an orange light flickering beneath me. I got a bit freaked out. So, I lay over the bed and looked into the bed under me. The young man was sleeping while just above his head the fan was on fire. I jumped off the bed and shook the guy in bed and screamed 'Fire! Fire!'. This woke the other 5 people in the room with us. It was a big rush. We searched for water to extinguish the fire. Fortunately, we soon succeeded. But sleep was even more unthinkable. The biting smell, the heat, the many mosquitoes in the room and the agitated mood made this impossible.
Back in bed was the moment where I immediately looked for another hostel (I would have booked 2 more nights here). At this point I didn’t care anymore that the new hostel will cost a bit more. My life is worth it.
I'm going to move to Onederz in Siem Reap tomorrow. I have in a Hostel of the same chain back in Phnom Penh, which was great. And here I will stay now until the 22nd of November to visit thetemples of Angkor Wat.
Have a look at some impressions of this trip📸
Since this was my only day in Battambang today, I decided to take a stroll around the city. But I also heard about the bat cave, which I really did not want to miss. At the reception I met Paul, he had planned the day tour for today. Since I wanted to see the city in the morning and the tour is cheaper for two people, he has changed his plans and booked the half-day tour with me.
Battambang is located about 290km northwest of Phnom Penh. In 2008, the city had around 180,000 inhabitants. In the 19th century, the province of Battambang was temporarily part of neighboring Thailand. Only in 1907 it was returned to Cambodia under the pressure from the French colonial power. Economically, the province of Battambang is considered the "rice basket" of Cambodia. Due to the fertile soils, farmers sometimes earn two rice crops a year. The income in the province of Battambang is therefore higher than in other regions of Cambodia. Rice surpluses are marketed within Cambodia and exported abroad. In addition to rice cultivation, fruit (orange) and vegetable cultivation play a major role for the farmers. Tourism, unlike in Siem Reap, does not matter here (yet).
Around 10:00 am I set out to walk all over the city. Street up, next street down, etc. ☺️ As I said, the city is really not yet touristy. Even though, being quite different looking, but you are never stared at. Something that can be very exhausting in other Asian countries (as well as in Male, for example). Here in Cambodia, people do not care about it and I think that's great 😁
At 14:30hrs we went on our tour. What I found especially sweet was the reaction of our TukTuk driver when he learned that I'm from Switzerland. Immediately he began raving about Dr. Beat Richner. How much he has done for Cambodia. Hes considered like a god in the eyes of Cambodians. This is something I have heard a few times now during my time here. Cambodians idolize Beat Richner and seem therefore quite excited to meet Swiss.
After the short introductory round, we first visited the Bamboo Train (Norry). The rail taxis with the name Norry are an improvised means of transport in the area around Battambang. For tourists Norries are touted as "bamboo train", whose operation is now organized and supervised by the local tourist police. In the 1980s, the first wood-built self-built railroad taxi was used on the battered, former colonial route of farmers who earn a living as drivers of the Norries. The rail taxis resemble trolleys with a loading area of about 3.5 by 2 meters on a biaxial metal frame, driven by a 6-hp gasoline engine.
The rail taxis are necessary to transport people and loads in remote regions. A timetable and right of way rules exist meanwhile, was driven before always, if the rail taxi was busy. When two Norries meet on the single-track routes, the lighter of the two is unloaded and taken off the rail. Even a Norry that encounters two consecutive runners is taken off the rail. On parts of the train, the Norry closer to the last railway station will have to drive backwards when meeting another Norry on the way.
The experience was .... interesting. When we arrived at the Bamboo taxi, we were once again $ 5 buttoned off for the ride. We were told the ride would take 1h. Well, it was maybe 20min. 😏 The ride was loud. Very loud. The thing was chattering and rattling as if there was no tomorrow. 10-15min. in one direction, through rice fields which were quite nice. At the end of the track, a few small stalls waited for the tourists to sell souvenirs. Fortunately, this was not intrusive at all. There I also got my first ring from a man. An approximately 10 year old boy made me a ring of banana leaves. Really cute 😁 Yes, and then the ride went back the same way, with a big roar. That's it 😂 Well.
Next, we drove with the TukTuk to the bat cave. On the way, our driver stopped out in the nowhere at a small dining stand. We should look at the grill. There was something grilled on a stick and something curly beside it. 🤔 Barbecued rats on a stick and grilled snakes 🤤 Unfortunately, I was not hungry at the moment and so I cannot say how they taste🙈😂 He explained to us, that at the time of the Khmer Rouge, nothing more was available for food. So the people had to look for alternatives and found them in the rats. Understandable.
Because we were a bit too early at the 'Batman Cave', we climbed the hill there to enjoy the view. The country is incredibly flat. I had imagined that differently.
Yes, and at sunset, around 17.30hrs the 'Big Show' kicked off. Around 40 plastic chairs were lined up on the little lane facing the cave. Street vendors selling lemonade from their orange coolers and there was a certain amount of excitement in the air. You could already hear the screaming sounds of the bats. And suddenly you see them flying in the cave. A black spiral rose from the cave into the sky and swept over the viewers. An incredible spectacle. Everyone seemed enthusiastic about the magic of the bats. There are about 5 million (!!!) animals leaving the cave each evening at sunset (this takes about 40 minutes) to look for food in the fields. At about 5:00hrs in the morning the animals return to the darkness of the bat cave.
Once the show was over, we drove back to Battambang with stunning views of the sunset.
Have a look here at the pictures of this trip.
First a short conclusion before I leave Phnom Penh. As so often when you arrive in Asia, you are at first overwhelmed with all the impressions, the climate, etc.
However, once you get used to it, you discover a Phnom Penh which has its rough side but can also be charming at the same time. In addition, the city seems to have still escaped the mass tourism, which gives you the change of great encounters with the locals.
Of course, I have seen the shady streets with the contact bars and their western gentlemen with Cambodian young ladies on the arm, the poverty which unfortunately prevails, but also the beautiful waterfront promenade on the Mekong river where the locals meet for snacks and evening dances, the beautiful temples spread throughout the city and of course the delicious street food 😋
I like Phnom Penh somehow and find the city quite charming.
But it is time to leave Phnom Penh and travel further north. I really looked into thoroughly researching and planning my journey from Phnom Penh to Battambang (296km). Airplane was not an option for me because I want to see the countryside. Private transfer by car was an option first. But then turned out to be too expensive at $ 80. So, there was the option to travel by bus ($ 12). However, you can read a lot of horror stories (of totally crowded buses, buses catching fire, etc.) 😅 But I had to get there somehow and so the bus was the cheapest and most suitable option for me. I'll be okay 🙈 I decided on the company 'Mekong Express'.
The bus was scheduled to leave at 07:30hrs. Between 06:30hrs-07:30hrs I was supposed to be picked up at the Hostel. Hence I was ready at 06: 30hrs. The bus was there to pick me up at 07: 00hrs in front of the Hostel. From there we went to the bus terminal to pick up more guests. Other guests is exaggerated. There was only 1 other local men joining the bus. He sat down next to the driver. Which meant I’ve had the whole small bus (12 seats) to myself🙌🏼 I could hardly believe my luck. In addition, the bus (for Asian standards) was relatively new and air-conditioned. I could even stretch out my legs. Just great. We left at 08:00 in Phnom Penh and arrived at Battambang at 14:00hrs. 6h for 296km is ok. On the way we stopped briefly for lunch and a few more short times for pee breaks ☺️ The ride has indeed been a bit tiny bit scary at times. But I already know the Asian driving style 😅 The guys in front found my reactions in certain situations extremely funny.
In terms in scenery, the ride is not really worth it. The landscape is monotonous and not really exciting. Again and again you drive through small towns which, however, gives you a great insight into Cambodia.
Arrived in Battambang, I was lucky that the bus stopped 5m next to my Hostel. This was not even planned. So much luck in one day is scary 😅 I dropped my bag at the Hostel and headed out into the city. Anne, whom I met in Phnom Penh, told me about a great cooking class here in town. I really wanted to try that. I found 'Coconut Lyly' about 200m away from my Hostel. In the cooking group we were 5 'students'. We first went to the local market accompanied by Lyly (the young owner of the restaurant) to buy some of the ingredients. Lyly has done the buying, because he simply gets much better prices and can bargain far better than us tourists 😂 In the market Lyly has told us fascinating info's to local vegetables and fruits. One thing I did not know for example was, that watermelon is first a vegetable and only later becomes a fruit🤓 Once we’ve had all the ingredients together, we went back to the restaurant to cook (which also seems to be the living room of the family). There Lyly's sister has taken over (under the stern eyes of Mama😁). We cooked Amok (the national dish of Cambodia (a curry steamed with coconut milk in a banana leaf), raw green Mango salad, spring rolls and a coconut Lyly for dessert. God was that delicious. The cooking was great fun. From curry paste to dessert we made everything ourselves from scratch out of the fresh ingredients from the market. Just great. The course lasted 4 hours and this for $10 only. Just great.
That was enough of experiences for a day. I was pretty exhausted after that and in bed at 20:00hrs 🙈😁
And here are the pictures to this story📸
After exploring the city on foot yesterday and visiting some of the pretty sights such as Wat Phnom Temple, the Central Market and the King's Palace, the program was much more depressing today. To get more involved with the country's history, I visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields in Choeung Ek.
The history of Cambodia is overshadowed by the regime of the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge was a Maoist-nationalist guerrilla movement that came to power in 1975 under the leadership of Pol Pot in Cambodia and until 1979 ruled the country as a totalitarian state party. The Khmer Rouge wanted to force society into agricultural communism. This process also included the near total displacement of the population from the capital, Phnom Penh, and culminated in the genocide in Cambodia, which gained worldwide renown. All educated people, wearers of glasses or, among other things, people with soft hands were brutally murdered. By the end of their rule in 1978, the Khmer Rouge fell victim to the most prevalent estimates of 1.7 to 2.2 million Cambodians.
The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
In 1975, Tuol Svay Prey High School was taken over by the security forces of Pol Pot and converted into a prison known as Security Prison 21 (S-21). It soon became the largest center for detention and torture in the country. The S-21 was converted into the Tuol Sleng Museum, which serves as proof of the Khmer Rouge crimes. The walk through the Tuol Sleng Museum is incredibly depressing and sad (sad is not even the right word for this).
I took the audio guide, which is highly recommended. The audio tour is complemented with the voices of survivors, which will let you completely step out from the outside world. However, it takes a lot of strength to cope with what you hear and see. Again and again I have caught myself standing in the room with goose bumps and tears in my eyes, taking a moment to take a deep breath. The pictures of the detainees, who are staring at one of the walls, the torture instruments and the traces of blood that still exist in some places, are not easy to put away.
I spent 1.5hrs in the museum. Where I find museum a misnomer for a place of such horror.
After that, my driver drove me to Choeung Ek, the most well-known of the many Killing Fields in Cambodia. The Killing Fields, as well as the newly-visited S-21, belong to the history of the Khmer Rouge. The ride on the TukTuk took about 40 minutes to the south, outside of Phnom Penh.
In this site, up to 17,000 people were killed who were brought here from the S-21 prison I visited earlier. Particularly memorable are the images of thousands of skulls and other human remains that littered the fields of Cambodia. The skulls are now kept in part in a stupa, which was built in memory of the dead on the grounds in Choeung Ek.
At this point, I do not want to go into the details of what exactly happened to the people here. This is too disturbing.
Due to heavy rain and erosion, remains of clothes and bones are still being collected every two to three months by the staff on the memorial grounds. During my walk over the terrain, I actually discovered clothes and teeth, which made themselves recognizable in the ground. A horrible feeling
Also in Choeung Ek one was accompanied by an audio. Again, a very depressing experience.
I was glad to have done the tour and recommend the experience to everyone. The whole thing leaves a concern for the Cambodian population, anger over what people are capable of and misunderstanding why no one from the West was able to stop it.
In the evening I went to the Royal Palace. Today, celebrations for the 65th Independence Day Cambodias from France took place there.
After the depressing day, it was nice to watch the local people being happy together with the family. In the end, the good will always win❤️.
At 19: 00hrs there was a nice firework display over the Mekong river. A great ending to an emotional day.
So today I started on my trip. For the first time I boarden an A380 (yes, I'm a bit of a plane nerd and was super excited). However, flying on an A380 is not noticeably different than another plane, except at takeoff and landing. This is pretty impressive.
The flight from Zurich to Singapore was ..... long. 12.5 hours long🙄 However, I had a great neighbor, with whom I could chat between the many movies to watch.
Arriving in Singapore late, we, a small group of Swiss all on the trip to Cambodia, ran like the wild, so as not to miss our connection 😅 Of course we were then too early. We are Swiss afterall 🤷🏼♀️
The flight from Singapore to Phnom Penh took 1h 40min. That was enough flying for 1 day 😕
Sometime local time around 8: 40hrs I landed in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. In order to avoid the long queue at passport control, I already got the visa in Switzerland. I was all the more surprised when I entered the hall and practically no people were waiting in line. I have not experienced anything like that in Asia before. All the better. Just flying through passport control.
When leaving the airport, I felt like I'd been hit by a fist in the face. I'm not used to the heat anymore.
I was now supposed to travel to my Couchsurfing host. However, since we did not have any contact the last few days, I wanted to contact him to see if everything was ok with my stay. I sat at Burger King (in the cool) and tried to call him, sent texts vie WhatsApp and Couchsurfing. No Answer. I waited about 2 hours. No Answer. That was a bit disappointing. I was so looking forward to the experience. 😒
Instead I decided to look for a hostel in the city. I needed a shower and a bed. At the airport, I took a TukTuk, which would take me to my hostel (One Stop Hostel Phnom Penh).
Later in the afternoon (after some sleep and shower) I ventured into the streets of Phnom Penh. For the first time to the Mighty Mekong. The river is really huge and the name therefore suitable. At the night market, with its exotic fruits, the women sitting on the ground while selling fish. For dinner at a lady’s food-stall on the road for a delicious curry.
I wandered the streets with no real destination. Cambodia's capital can be an attack on the senses. Motorcycles whiz through the streets without thinking of pedestrians; Markets spread sharp scents; and meanwhile, the sounds of life sound through the streets. All these too many impressions make my skull hum. Especially after 25h without sleep.
Back to the hostel to sleep was now the saving thought.
រាត្រីសួស្តី 😴 (Good Night)
For 15 years now (at least ...) I have dreamed of traveling the world, discovering foreign countries and experiencing cultures first-hand.
Unfortunately, the piggy bank was never quite on my side. That's how year after year passed. The dreams of travel remained dreams.
Last April I flew to Bali on vacation. While traveling on the island of the Gods, I realized once again, how much traveling and discovering foreign countries fulfill me.
After a long struggle with myself, conversations with friends and family, I have decided to fulfill my long-cherished dream and hit the road (which sounds mcuh simpler than it actually was 🙄).
You only live once. Besides, nobody knows when this life is over. And I'm sure, you’ll regret the things you did much less than all the things you didn’t do. Therefore -> Let's go! 😅
And so I'm going to fly to ...... Cambodia 😍 You ask yourself how in the world did she come up with Cambodia😅. And that’s how it went->
Originally, I planned to travel the north of Sumatra (Indonesia) by scooter. As I got more involved with the journey, I noticed that my planned route is a beautiful 2000km. This in 1 month is sliiiiightly sporty 🙈😂 So I was looking for an alternative. It should not be too far away from Bali and I would love to be able to dive. That's how I came across Sulawesi (Indonesia). Sadly, 3 days after my decision, the devastating earthquake on Sulawesi happened.
Now I was stuck. Out of "despair" I turned to Globetrotter Travel Services in Biel. During an appointment, I explained my dilemma. Based on my preferences and travel time, the travel expert recommended a trip to Cambodia.
Everything spoke for it and I want to see every country anyway🤷🏼♀️😅 The decision was made quickly.
I'm flying via Singapore to Phnom Penh in Cambodia on November 6th. I will have one month to travel the land of the Khmer.
On December 5th I will fly from Sihanoukville (Cambodia) via Kuala Lumpur to Bali. There I will start the Divemaster course (diving) on December 12th. The course will take 8 weeks. What follows afterwards .....time will tell 😉