Saturday 7 April, 2018
Day 10 / Battambang to Siem Reap via boat
[Missed Day 9? Read the previous post here]
I wake up to the sound of rain. Thank goodness it’s not a big cycle day but I’m still worried about the short trip we have to make to the boat terminal which is about five minutes down the road. By the time we check out, the rain has eased up to a light drizzle so the cycle down is pretty painless.
At the boat dock the man asks for our tickets so I hand them to him – he asks if we paid at our hotel already. I tell him yes, but the hotel manager told me to pay him $3 each for the bikes and hand him the extra cash.
The boat service from Battambang to Siem Reap is scheduled every day at 7am. When they say 7am they really mean ‘7am if you’re lucky but more likely 7:30 or 8 o’clock’. And the boat dock isn’t the actual dock that the boat departs from – they load you onto a truck and drive you 15 minutes out of town to another boat dock.
As we wait for the truck to take us to the real boat dock, a group in a minibus arrive – and it ends up being the four Aussie cyclists we saw the other day. The six of us are loaded onto the back of a truck, and they somehow squeeze our two bikes on between us.
Once at the real boat dock, everyone climbs down some rickety ladder stairs and loaded we’re onto the boat, with our bikes and luggage going on top. I forget to grab a few things from my bike bags so I have to walk on across the roof to my bike – there are no railings and I can’t help but say to myself “Don’t fall in. Just don’t fall in”. It’s raining a little but there’s a nice cool freshness to the air today, which is a nice change considering how hot it’s been throughout the trip. The boat ride normally gets quite hot and people advise you to wear heaps of sunscreen and have plenty of water. But it doesn’t look like it’ll be like that at all today.
We finally depart at 7.40am. It can take anything between 7-10 hours to get to Siem Reap, depending on the tide and weather conditions. There are 20 people on board, all with their bags and luggage, and even someone with a giant picture frame. Most look like locals and then you have us – the six Aussies! We’ve heard that people often go to the top level to stand or lay in the sun but it’s cold and rainy so everyone decides to stay under cover.
I’ve left my jacket in my bike bag on the roof and so I’m feeling pretty cold from the wind. It must look pretty obvious how cold I am as one of the Aussie guys gives me his rain jacket to wear. He says “It might be a bit big but it’ll keep you warm”. I thank him and throw it on – it’s about 6 sizes too big but nice to have barrier against the wind.
As you float down the river, it’s interesting to see the floating villages along the shore. The houses are held up by stilts, so while they look like they’re floating on the water, they are technically not.
It’d be an interesting life, having to get in a boat whenever you want to get to a shop or your neighbour’s house.
There are small boats zipping about all over the place. Every now and then, the boat stops to drop someone off – and they have a smaller boat meet up so they can get off and be taken to their house or shop.
The boat makes one stop at a small shop selling snacks and has a floating bathroom. The seven hours flies by and it doesn’t feel like seven hours at all.
At one point the tide is so low that our boat gets stuck and the guys have to climb out to help push the boat along.
It takes a good 20-30 minutes before they get it moving again and everyone applauds their efforts.
Before we know it, we’ve arrived at the Siem Reap Boat Terminal, which is little more than a ramp and stairs leading up to the dry land. I drag my bike up the stairs and as soon as you emerge you are bombarded with dozens of tuk tuk drivers offering to take you into town, which is about 12km away. However we have our own set of wheels and jump on our bikes.
The cycle into town is pretty cruisy at first – we had another tuk tuk driver offer to drive us into town while we were already cycling into town ourselves. At least he tried! I’m expecting Siem Reap to be quite a built up city, but some of the roads on the maps are dirt trails, which can throw your bearings off.
We eventually find our hotel. The lady at the counter seems a little hasty in wanting us to check in quickly, telling us to leave our bikes outside as she will take care of them, sending us upstairs with her daughter to look at the room.
We go up to the third floor and the place feels big and empty. I have a feeling we might be the only guests today. The room seems fine so I sort out payment. She rejects my first $20 note as it has a tiny rip in it so I give her another – the locals get quite pedantic about US currency but don’t really care about the condition of Khmer Riels.
We figure out the way to cycle to the ticket office to buy our Angkor Wat tickets for tomorrow. Travel tip: purchasing your ticket for the Angkor Temples the day before between 5-5:30pm allows you to access the temples that evening until 5:30pm as well as the following day. It’s also handy if you plan to check out the Angkor Wat sunrise as the box office is about 8km from Angkor Wat itself.
The ticket offices are pretty busy with hundreds of Chinese tourists with the same idea to purchase tickets the day before. The ticket staff take our photos which are printed on our tickets, we pay our $37 and decide to cycle to Angkor Wat to check out the sunset with what remaining time we have left that evening.
We head straight up to the East Gate entrance as we hear that one is less crowded. It’s actually a really nice afternoon for a cycle and the temperature has been quite cool for the first time on the trip. There’s an interesting vibe in the air as cars and vehicles pass us, while loads of tourists and heading in the opposite direction as they leave the temples for the day. We witness two car loads of soccer players pass us – their boot is open and they are crammed into the backs of the cars with music pumping and what looks like a huge trophy they’ve just won. They’re bopping to the music so we decide to have a laugh and dance with them. We eventually get stopped at the ticket check point and the officer checks our tickets. You will see loads of locals driving around the area as they all get free entry to the temples. Only tourists are stopped at the check points to have their tickets checked.
We arrive at East Gate but it’s closed and the officer says they close the entry off late in the day and we must head around to the West Gate. It’s another 2km, so we jump back on the bikes and continue cycling around the lake. It’s already past 5pm so we’re worried about not having enough time. We pick up the pace and I almost feel like I’m on The Amazing Race, trying to beat the clock to win the challenge. We arrive with about 15-20 minutes to spare and head straight in through the gates.
We see Angkor Wat in the distance and it looks quite spectacular. It’s also busy as hell. So many tourists!
We see the European couple we saw arguing the other day – and it looks like they are still arguing. As we wander closer, we notice monkeys everywhere and they are quite aggressive. We’ve encountered monkeys before in Sri Lanka but they were more playful. These ones are chasing tourists around for their food. We witness a female tourist from Europe get her bag of mango snatched out of her hands by a lone monkey before he sits down to chow down the fruit. Another group of Chinese tourists are chased for their bags of fruit. It’s quite comical to watch actually.
We are going against the flow of the exiting crowd and make it through a few more gates before we are told to turn around and make our way to the exit by one of the security staff. We take our time leaving as the sun is slowly setting.
On the way out we spot the same European couple again still having a go at each other…the girl storms off from the guy. I wonder how it all ends. We stop for a bit to soak in the atmosphere before deciding it’ll be safer to leave while the sun is still up as we have no bike lights.
We cycle back towards town and end up back at the hotel. We start encountering a few problems with our room: the toilet leaks when flushed, I take a shower and the sink doesn’t drain, plus the air con is leaking onto the carpet. We get someone to check it out, and possible may need a new room. The man fixes everything except the air con. We go for a stroll down the road at a local food place for dinner. I show my vegetarian translation and turns out one of the girls speaks some English so we order vegetarian noodles, rice and spring rolls.
We stop by the local convenience store on the way back to grab some water and snacks before heading back to the hotel room for some bad Cambodian TV. Then the big question: are we going to wake at the crack of dawn for the Angkor Wat sunrise, or maybe do sunrise at Bayon instead and skip the crowds? We do a bit of research and discover Bayon isn’t open until 7.30am, so we decide to have a sleep in an go straight to Bayon in the morning.
Distance cycled: 34km (Siem Reap boat terminal to Siem Reap 12km, then Angkor Island Hotel to Angkor Wat and back 22km) Note: we didn’t turn the Garmin on today sorry!
Accommodation: Angkor Island Hotel (USD $15)
Lunch: Packed lunch from Monorom Garden Restaurant
Dinner: Local restaurant