We are about to leave Siem Reap after spending four days there and having the chance to see the wonders of Angkor.
We are now headed south to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city, and we decided to reach it by boat across the huge Lake Tonle Sap.
Tonle Sap is the biggest lake in south-east Asia, and here’s the remarkable experience we had crossing it.
LEAVING SIEM REAP
Our journey from Siem Reap starts with a 10 km bus ride, which will be longer or shorter depending on where and how many stops have to be done to pick up people. In our case very long, with 24 people on a 16-seater bus! We couldn’t believe our eyes when, with already 16 on board, the driver kept on pulling over to pick up more people, and the old lady, improvised ticket inspector, was literally creating new seats out of nowhere, pushing us against each other like sardines, among general laughs!
As usual, huts and extremely poor villages act as background on the way to lake Tonle Sap. Eventually we get off, and we are ready to board our craft. The port is home to tens of fishing boats. We are pointed to a boat, our backpacks are thrown onto the top of it while we get on board, hopefully we’ll see them again!
LAKE TONLE SAP
We start to cut through the brown waters. On the banks, stilt houses rise for a few km: they lie way over the river level, that is quite dry in this period of the year, fact that witnesses that in the rainy season waters rise by several meters. With the lake getting wider, we find ourselves in front of a unique view: hundreds of small wooden houses float on the water, some isolated, some other linked together to form a sort of mini-floating village. Even more spectacular, the lake is so wide you can’t see its banks from neither sides, just a huge surface with floating stilt houses everywhere.
In the meanwhile, water has become cleaner but greenish, caused by a kind of moss that grows on water. Suddenly, we stop by a bigger speedboat, which we have to jump on (another throw for our backpacks). This craft will lead us from lake Tonle Sap to the river of the same name, and then all the way south to Phnom Penh (where it dives into river Mekong), for a total lenght of about 260 kilometers.
TONLE SAP RIVER
The great views are not over yet. The rest of the lake is more less uninhabited except for rare huts and lone fishing boats, until Tonle Sap river begins: green rice fields cover the banks completely, lots of people are working everywhere, especially women followed by their children who happily wave their hands to us.
Men are on boats instead, they either come back from fishing or carry goods. These scenes go on for several kilometers, and they leave us speechless. If before we were doubtful when seeing the dirty waters and crumbling stilt houses, now we understand that the river means everything for these people who run it everyday up and down, and have conquered its banks.
REACHING PHNOM PENH
The journey is 6 hours long all together (4.5 hrs by speedboat), but isn’t boring at all, it was a pleasant surprise. Only thing not in favour could be the price (35$ against 12$ of the bus), but for such an experience, it is totally worth the money. At the sight of the first road bridges and skyscrapers of Phnom Penh, we feel a bit of sadness to leave this scenery. Phnom Penh looks quite chaotic, we aren’t stopping here for now. At the dock, as usual, drivers fight each other to get us on their tuk-tuks, and before getting on the bus to Sihanoukville (on the Cambodian seaside), we stop for a drink in a local bar: we are the only westerns and everybody stare at us with curiosity. The bus trip will be the opposite of the boat journey we just had: uncomfortable, endless, a lot of traffic and polluted air that will make it unbearable. Once in Sihanoukville, the tiny room that welcomes us at 11pm, after 17hrs of travelling, seems like a royal suite to us!
Starting tomorrow, we will have some days of relaxation on the stunning Koh Rong Island!
WHERE TO STAY:
- Onederz Khmer House, Siem Reap: a beautiful house, of khmer architecture inspiration in the centre of Siem Reap;
- Saravoan Royal Palace, Phnom Penh: a lovely stay at walking distance from the Palace and museums, the garden is gorgeous, great value for money!
- Spayhiti Sihanoukville: a quiet place located at the end of the beach, perfect to relax;
- You can pre-book all your accommodation in Cambodia with free cancellation here.
HOW TO GET AROUND:
- Siem Reap – Phnom Penh: 6-7 hours, from 12$ by bus, 35$ by boat on Tonle Sap;
- Phnom Penh, port to city: bargain a tuk-tuk ride for not more than 1-2$;
- Phnom Penh – Sihanoukville: 4 hours, bus, around 10$;
- Sihanoukville – Koh Rong Island: 1.5 hrs by ferry, 10$.
- Never leave home without a reliable travel insurance. Even if you trust yourself, you can’t always trust others. Better safe than sorry! Get your quote here.
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