From Battambang we took a 5-6 hour boat ride to Siem Reap via the Tonle Sap, which in Khmer means roughly “Great Lake.” The boat was small, with about eight rows of wooden benches under an aluminum roof. It rained in the morning, which was actually nice because it kept the air cool for a few hours. We stopped at a floating house/restaurant where in addition to a few connected houses forming a floating neighborhood, they had pigs and chickens on the floating platforms. I used my first over-the-river-toilet, which was… interesting, squatting on two wooden planks, over the river… don’t fall in. After the stop, the clouds dispersed and most of the western passengers braved the sun and the heat on the roof of the boat.
The scenery was amazing. Sort of more of what we were seeing in Vietnam… vast expanses of wetlands, floating villages, fisherman making their living. But the Tonle Sap lake is a really unique body of water. The lake rises and falls significantly during the wet and dry season. In the dry season it shrinks and then in the wet season totally swells. This shrinking and swelling causes the lake to change direction: flowing into the Mekong River during the dry season and overflowing to the point that it flows into the Tonle Sap Lake during monsoon season. The change is celebrated in Phnom Penh with the Water Festival that we just missed by two days. Damn.