The Floating Village of Prek Toal & The Core Bird Reserve.
Vans, big motorboats, little motorboats, kayaks, bicycles, trains and taxis all had a part to play in our adventure from Siem Reap to Battambang. Overnight in the floating village of Prek Toal and the flooded forests of the core bird reserve. Across the floodplains of the Tonle Sap Great Lake and up the Sangke River through the lush rural countryside of Battambang Province to the centre of the farming town in twenty four hours and a bit.
The expedition started at the boat station near Maichrey floating village, where Mr Heang and his boat were waiting. The water was still high enough for us to cross the flooded scrub where we moored to a submerged tree. Lena and Seb were apt pupils as I explained the hydrological phenomena of the Mekong River system until I was rudely interrupted by a virulent green pit viper wrapped around a branch overhanging the deck.
Pit Viper in tree beside boat
The afternoons adventure was to explore Prek Toal floating village and the surrounding flooded countryside by kayak. The police chief took photos as we paddles past his station, children came out to stare as we floated by their houses, while those actually working ignored us.
Seb and Lena setting off from their homestay
Our improvised route went between the blackened trunks of flooded trees under their dense green canopy and emerged beside the floating Catholic Church. We crossed the channel to where a muscled boy was ladling fish into piles in front of squatting ladies who chopped them up with meat cleavers, making a pulp that would ferment into Prahoc or Khmer cheese. So named because Cambodians think cheese stinks.
The Catholic Church
We watched the sun – a blood red orange, set over the core bird reserve from the watch tower on top of the environmental research station, then motored over to the Saray Platform for supper.
Reflections twisted by the wake of motorboats. A cool breeze playing over the boat’s spume.
Hosing the prahok tables ready for tomorrow.
Alien clumps of hyacinth drifting on the water.
Single pin pot lights overly bright in the blackness.
Sunset over the Prek Toal Core Bird reserve
Cotton wool fluff of half seen cloud and the glare of a television set as we came close to people’s houses.
The women weavers on the water hyacinth workshop had gone home but their piers were cooking us supper, fish, vegetables and fruit with rice and a good bottle of chardonnay to wash it down.
Swinging in a hammock in Veasna’s house our home for the night Manus hid a lime in Baby Buntha’s nappy. His sister heaved the heavy little lump across the floor. Some hatchet faced big woman busied herself in our space. The Grandmother on all fours played with the baby. Little sister went skipping to her mummy then wrapped the baby in plastic. All the while pool hall play by the lads in the village. Hide and seek by the water jar, doubled up Grandmother.
Day 2 The Core Bird Reserve
Streaky orange lighting the village as the first long tails cacaphonic clatter echoed across the water. The old lady hawked, the batteries ran out on the night lanterns. We awkwardly crossed the tilting boats to the pool hall barge to meet Heang, who took us for breakfast back at the Saray Platform.
Dawn over Prek Toal
Bunhoeurn was waiting in the community boat for the ride into the magical landscape of the post dawn flooded forest. The light of the warming sun was reflected by the delicate yellow flowers of floating saray plant. Squadrons of cormorants flew in slip stream formation. A profusion of black and white; Oriental darters mixed with egrets, pelicans riding the thermals like galleons in the sky and the bird colonies. Avian cities built in the tallest trees.
Indochine Exploration organises overnight and longer expeditions to Battambang by boat when the river is high and by road when its not.