Tuesday, 24 April 2012

A Boat Journey from Battambang to Siem Reap

I've always loved boat journeys: something about the slower pace (you can guess what sorts of boats I prefer) and the moochy passage of time where you and your companions are gradually transposed from place to place; the chance to absorb the view and arrive more incrementally somewhere. This was just such a journey; seven hours to get to Siem Reap along the Sangker River and across Lake Tonle Sap. This lake is a natural flood barrier for the Mekong, absorbing its vast extra water volumes in the wet season and increasing in depth from 2m in the dry season to 10 metres and area from 2500-3000 sq km to 10-16000 sq km.

Our vessel was a simple fibreglass boat, possibly not meeting Western safety standards (didn't see any life jackets for instance) with an outboard motor with a long shaft before the prop-i.e.~3 metres. We were happy with our for'ad seats as the motor was very noisy.

We began in Battambang with maybe 50:50 local:tourist but by the end after picking up and dropping off along the way, the proportion was more like 80:20 local:tourist.

At first we journeyed along a fairly narrow river which eventually joined the Lake and passed floating villages until docking nearly at Siem Reap, which was finally reached by a 13 km tuk tuk ride. Along the way we saw close up how people live by, on and in the river, getting an up close and personal view of their daily lives. The photos speak for themselves really, so here's a snapshot of the trip.

You can see the rubbish, of which there is a lot. You have to wonder about the longer term outcomes of eating fish subject to this sort of pollution. Plastic bags are a scourge in Cambodia.

Not much freeboard here!

The toss

The landing

An idea of the volume of rubbish in some areas!

After seeing a few of these, we decided they were net lifters?

We picked up and dropped off lots of people along our way.

One of our two boatmen

Man at a floating shop

Teenagers gunning the motor, the same the world over!

Some were more gentle in their approach!

Some people went to lengths to decorate their homes

This reminded me of Van Gogh's fishing boats painting

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Two big bus trips to Northwest Cambodia and a look around Battambang

This was my day for Immodium! Happily for me (and everyone else) it works well. The bus from Kampot to Phnom Penh takes about three hours and our lovely hotel proprietor gave us a breakfast of fresh baguette and mango jam and some fruit to take since we had an early start. At PP we had a couple of hours before our next bus which was to be a longer 6+hour trip. So with the excuse of me being a bit fraj, we hung out in the hallowed halls of the Foreign Correspondents Club- just as you'd imagine with dark wood and leather chairs and big lazy fans. The next bus was particularly grimy with the sort of greasy shiny curtains that dangle annoyingly in your hair. However it was worth it for the people-lots of extended families heading away for Khmer New Year, great people watching territory, though a bit close for photos.

On arrival in Battambang one tuk tuk driver stood out by sprinting along with the bus, spotting us and with an infectious grin, precocious English and a good deal became our driver. Tra Tra has ambitions of studying further English and tourism and becoming a tour guide. He's already well on his way. Over the next couple of days he took us to several places and always accompanied us to the sights and found a cool place to sit while he relayed the legends and history of the place. He pointed out plants and explained the way that most people farm in Cambodia.

The first day he took us on a big day trip. First up was Battambang's famous bamboo train or nori.

This uses the normal train line but is a small flat bamboo platform perhaps 2x1m with two axles and one motor mower type engine.

It's used for transporting local goods and people. Both it and the line are pretty rickety, so when you go on it it feels like an old fashioned roller coaster before OSH regulations had any part in it. There's only one line, so when you meet another nori or a real train, whichever nori has the lighter load is quickly dismantled at the side of the track and reassembled after the other has passed.

Disassembling the nori

Nori waiting for use. You can see the axles on the other side of the track

There is an impoverished village and a brick works where the nori stops and local children show you around. A small stall selling cold drinks provides a meagre income for some enterprising villagers. A bit sobering alongside the joyride for the westerners...the stall holder's wife had just had a baby the day before we visited and a more basic place to give birth you could hardly imagine!

Tra Tra took us on to visit Phnom Banan; an 11th C temple, with 5 towers like Angkor Wat. 358 stone steps lead up and this normally quiet place was humming with Khmer people celebrating New Year in a carnival atmosphere.

After a delicious lunch at a roadside cafe we walked up to Phnom Sampeau, a complex of temples on a hilltop affording spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.

Me with Tra Tra our excellent tuk tuk driver and guide

Again the history caught up with us, as here are also killing caves where people were bludgeoned to death by Khmer Rouge cadres before being thrown down into the cave below.

On the way back to the hotel in the tuk tuk the road was busy with kids of all ages standing outside their houses throwing water bombs and talcum powder at passers-by:a traditional New Year celebration! Some were too shy to bomb us, but many more really made the most of it! The camera got put away pretty quickly!

First up on Day Two we decided to do a cooking class to learn some local Khmer dishes. We were the only students and went first to the market with the chef Vannak to get the ingredients to cook 3 different dishes- more in the food and market post to come!

On our final afternoon we went to visit a local Khmer house which is over 100 years old. It was built by the grandfather of the elderly man who lives there today and showed us round.

Inside the house has beautiful wooden floorboards and old furniture

 High wooden ceilings

Before returning for some poolside time(!) Tra Tra took us to see rice paper being made.

Rice water drains through the muslin to make the starchy liquid which is spread out on a cloth and steamed over boiling water

As it was New Year the women, who work below their house (all the houses are raised off the ground on stilts, leaving space below for living, working and storage), were having a well earned day off. Normally two of them work together to make between 1-2000 sheets of rice paper per day for spring rolls. They get paid 5000 riels (or $1:25 per 100); something I will remember next time I eat a cold roll or a spring roll.

The abandoned (1975 again) Pepsi plant is an interesting time warp too.

The discomfort of travelling in a poor country does lie in the comfort of our lives in contrast; and it is with thoughtfulness at this contrast that we returned to The Sanctuary Villa hotel which was a beautiful place to relax. Spacious individual villas are set in stunning gardens around a tempting pool. Splashed out a bit here at $65/night! So inexpensive for us, but more than most Cambodians earn in nearly two months!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Kampot and Kep

Really frustrating to have largely written this post over a few days and saved as a draft only to have blogger lose it! So now it’ll have to be edited highlights of Kampot and Kep because I don’t have time to re-write the whole thing. If anyone else has had this issue and has ideas on how to avert this problem, please DO tell! Meantime I’m resolved to save a copy to Word as well. Maybe it’s because I inserted a link? Someone on a forum mentioned that…?

Right! Moving right along… Kampot and Kep  are sleepy little towns to the SW of Phnom Penh. The former is a pretty riverside town, near the coast and the latter a small fishing village on the coast 25km to the East, famous for its crab- of which more later.

We took the bus from Phnom Penh to Kampot-only about 150km but a 3 hour trip. As the only barang on the bus apart from one ex-pat American we were met by a scrum of tuk-tuk drivers offering to take us to a hotel of their choosing- however we had already booked and I’d spent the last hour or so of the bus trip worrying I’d made a bad choice after the American hummed and muttered about being ripped off and wondered if we could change our booking to one of his mates.  However it transpired he was thinking of the wrong place and The Columns is a perfectly charming little hotel in a restored French Colonial terrace  in a quiet little street (in the House that Jack built!) just off the main waterfront road.

 We spent the first day mooching around exploring on foot

Dilapidated old French shopfronts

The equivalent of the local bus to and from the market

We squeezed our way throughout the market-more in the market post later

Houses along the river near the town in Kampot

Man on a Cyclo delivering thatch

The ABC have an outpost here

An extra large load up onto the old bridge
And the second day we hired a scooter

and pottered off in the direction of Kep; on the way visiting a pepper plantation, for which Kampot is famous internationally.
Shrine amidst the pepper vines

Peppercorns ready for harvest
After a pause to deal with gastro-intestinal issues (!) we went for a walk in Kep National Park, which is an 8km trail around a hill with beautiful views right across a huge bay, dotted with islands and over to Vietnam, though unfortunately too hazy for good photos.

A well placed cafĂ© rehydrated us afterwards so we could venture to the Crab Market back in Kep. This basically consists of a row of boathouse style shacks jutting out over the water so they could bring the crabs up. 

The kitchens of the “restaurants” associated with these look very basic to us, but the food may well be some of the best I have ever tasted.
You order by the kilo (or part thereof), we didn’t think we were that hungry but wanted to try it, so they brought in a few from a basket in the sea and in a few minutes we were feasting on freshly caught and cracked crab with Kampot green pepper corns. We had crab with rice and bottled water to drink and complimentary watermelon to finish and I think the total bill was $8US for two of us.

We had a gentle ride back to Kampot past Muslim fishing villages and the usual interesting traffic on the road.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...