I decided to take the boat from Siem Reap to Battambang. It was neither the cheapest nor the fastest option, but I wanted to see Tonlé Sap, Cambodia’s largest lake, and the floating villages. Taking the boat to Battambang felt like killing two to three birds with one stone.
I bought the ticket from my favorite ticket stall on Sok San Road as they charged a bit less than my hotel. Scroll down for prices and travel times between Siem Reap and Battambang by transport option.
The minibus for the port picked me up at quarter past 7 in the morning. With me in the car and later in the port were only tourists. It makes sense — locals wouldn’t want to shell out the money and spend the time for the bus when they could take the bus from downtown Siem Reap for far less and get to Battambang faster.
I had had a small breakfast but no supplies for lunch. Not knowing whether or where we might break our 8-hour journey, I bought an overpriced slice of sweet bread and a banana.
I found a bench in the back on the right. I would later regret that choice when the sun changed position and after I had had the engine roar in my back for hours. I think there’s more to see on the left of the boat, too.
We took off at 7:45, each of us their own little bench on the shallow-draft 25-bench boat.
It was still dry season. So the water in the lake stood low. To the left and right of the fairway, we saw fishermen standing in the water fixing their nets.
After less than half an hour, we left the lake behind and entered Sangker River. I had assumed that this river and the Siem Reap River were one, just separated by Tonlé Sap. But no, both were tributaries of the lake. So the boat from Siem Reap to Battambang went downstream for a few minutes before going upstream most of the journey.
At first, the water was wide and seemed reasonably deep, too. Villages were set into the water rather than on the banks. But they weren’t floating as such. Rather, most of the houses sat on stilts. Elsewhere, large barges were mobile fishing stations with large square nets that could be hoisted up via a boom system on one side and a tiny hut on the other. Peeking inside, I could see kitchens and sleeping mats neatly rolled up for the day.
Make sure you click the photos for a closer look.
As we went through the villages, we picked up more and more locals. First, two or three at a time, they filled the benches left empty by the English passengers on board, who had withdrawn to the roof to drink beer and sunbathe. Then the tourists were shocked to find out that they, too, had to start sharing benches.
Ever and anon, the boat stopped to dispose of the water lily roots tangled up around the propeller. Along the river, the invasive species covered the water in a thick green carpet.
After almost 4 hours we arrived at a fork in the river. My ears couldn’t quite understand. But the engine had been turned off. It was time for lunch.
The small warped restaurant on stilts in the water of the two river forks served ginger chicken and rice for $2. While the young female Cambodian passengers stayed in their benches and dug into the food they’d brought along, the male Cambodians and the tourists got out and in line to get some ginger chicken. The restaurant ran out of seats, so I stood at a long table and ate my decent meal. I have had better ginger chicken. But I’ve also had worse stews in Cambodia.
After lunch, the river got smaller. It was no longer covered in water lily but the water was so shallow that the propeller would at times half stick out of the water and have a hard time driving the boat forward.
We stopped at smaller villages, now sitting high up on the banks and dropped most of or local passengers.
Eventually, the river grew wider and I knew, that Battambang must be near.
Unfortunately, due to the construction of a new bridge, we weren’t able to reach the downtown pier. Instead, the boat moored 5 km outside town.
To my surprise, I tuk-tuk driver was waiting with my name on a piece of paper. I hadn’t told my hotel when or how I was getting into town.
I approached him, even though I realized that this was the same scheme as in Siem Reap: The hotel provides a “free pick-up” that turns out only to be free when the tuk-tuk driver manages to sell you his services for a tour the next day. Since a tuk-tuk was my only option of getting downtown, I played along and had him do his pitch. He was well-prepared with a laminated booklet showing different tour options. But in the end, I opted to just pay him $5 rather than to rush my decision. I felt vindicated when I later heard him make a very tasteless joke to the receptionist of my hotel.
Transport options Siem Reap to Battambang: