A slow boat to Battambang
The riverboat from Siem Reap to Battambang, in Cambodia’s northwest, leaves early each morning and takes five to six hours squeezing through narrow waterways and wetlands and past myriad small villages, stopping at many to pick up or drop off passengers. It’s a photographer’s paradise.
This trip not only affords you some great landscape scenery from the boat as it winds its way across Tonle Sap lake and then around sandbanks and through reefs along the Sangkae river, but gets you up close and personal with the locals along the route. After a few minutes powering down the river, it slows and heads towards one of the banks, where a small boat with a few passengers is usually being paddled out towards us.
The fairly small boat might start off from Siem Reap looking decidedly empty, but that soon changes and after several village stops you begin to wonder just how the boat will be able to squeeze any more people in. Still, it’s all fairly jovial and each stop is met with plenty of waves and smiles from the brightly dressed children either heading along for the ride or just waving mum or dad goodbye.
There are cheaper and faster ways to get from point A to B on this route, but the riverboat is the best value if it’s a terrific cultural experience and myriad photo opportunities that you are after. I have read that there is a similar boat that goes from Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, but that it doesn’t get as near to any villages along the way and simply powers along the wide expanses of Tonle Sap lake for most of the way. But from Siem Reap to Battambang, the route and scenery is varied and interesting, and the five or so hours that it took to reach our destination seemed to fly by.
Our one stop along the way was an experience in itself; a floating general store with food and snacks, and a bathroom that consisted of a door out to a side landing that had an open square in the floor that you straddled to do your business, taking care not to drop anything or slip!
And at the end of the trip you are deposited on the banks of the river at Battambang, where a gaggle of rickshaw riders and drivers are waiting to take you to a hotel or book you in for a tour. You can either give them the name of your hotel if you have one booked, or take pot luck and follow their recommendations. I had a couple in mind from Lonely Planet and my driver took me to several and allowed me to go in and have a look and haggle, before I finally settled on one. He then took me on a fascinating tour around Battambang and told me his life story dealing with the Khmer Rouge years, which I have written about here.
You will need a fairly long zoom lens to for shots from the boat to reach the villages on the banks, and must remember to shoot at a fairly high shutter speed to counter the movement and vibrations of the boat. I shot my photos with a Canon 400D with a Tamron 18-270mm lens. I kept my shutter speed at 1/400th or 1/500th at least.
You can see more photographs of my river trip from Siem Reap to Battambang, as well as photos from Siem Reap and the Angkor Wat temples, Battambang and Phnom Penh at my Flickr website here.
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Have you been on the slow boat to Battambang from Siem Reap? Or any of the other riverboats in Cambodia? I’d be interested to hear your thought and experiences.