When I found out that my trip from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Battambang would be by private speed boat across Tonle Sap Lake in the middle of the country, I was excited! Most locals and visitors making that trek take the public waterway transportation which is an 8 hour journey across the largest freshwater lake in the country. Not us! David and I get to take the 4 hour trip by speed boat. We pictured a posh cigarette boat with the Miami Vice theme song pumping through Bose speakers.
This is the moment I get to offer a take-away for others who may one day also make this journey: YOU’RE IN CAMBODIA! So your ideas of what to expect — whether it is a boat, a bathroom or food– have to be re-examined through the lens of the Cambodian expectations. Our “private speed boat” was actually a tiny, beat up vessel that I could probably fit in my bathtub.
Once we got past the brief anxiety of whether it would stay afloat, the trip was a riot. Our local driver zipped us through “shortcuts” of overgrown brush that cracked like whips on the side of the boat. We passed a number of floating villages and had a rare chance to stop and see inside of one.
These are local fishing families who live on the water. Some of them even live inside their boats. Floating market boats bring them supplies of clothing and food so they almost never get to land.
I notice primitive television antennas on top of many of these huts. I am told this “new technology” was introduced to them about five years ago. Now, they can watch black and white television which they run on a car battery. I find that fascinating. To these families it is a blessing as they have something to do now especially when it is not fishing season.
Inside the homes is a very primitive existence. The place we stopped was in Bakprea village. The family was gracious to offer a cold drink, a snack of dried squid snacks and a restroom.
Again—those expectations I mentioned came into play. The latrine was actually a small square the size of a closet with an open square positioned over the lake below. I have been in many primitive bathrooms, but this one was a new experience. It is a little startling for those of us used to more…um….pleasing accommodations, but beggars cannot be choosers and I appreciate the hospitality.
I always embrace the unexpected, the shocking, the unusual and frankly, sometimes difficult situations when I travel because it expands my mind and it truly makes me appreciate what other people endure for the sake of survival rather than convenience.