Back in the village by 9am our journey into the heart of darkness (actually lush, pastoral Battambang) began.
The waterway was fringed by hyacinth and undulating green margins of scrub with the occasional hamlets of floating houses or shacks tied to trees. The first proper village Kampong Prahoc, which sort of translates into waterside place of good prahoc (fermented fish paste). I wouldn’t want to be there when the water is low and rotten fish undiluted!
After an hour or so we began to get an idea of how vast the floodplain is. Over 40 kilometres wide where the water rises and falls by 10 meters submerging all but the tallest trees. In the floating villages along our route the only permanent constructions were pagodas on stilts.
Around a bend and Wat Cheu Khmao or temple of the black wood, came into view like a Burmese monastery with a beautiful modern pagoda framed by sugar palms behind. It was built in 1944 copying the Bayon Temple in Angkor and completed with Loksvara, the smiling faces at the cardinal points but they were blamed after accidents and disease struck the village then removed.
The salapali or teaching space for Wat Cheu Kmao
Great clumps of yellow green bamboo towered over the floating houses. The stems are harvested to provide the floating platforms on which the villages are built.
A regal Grey-headed fish eagle on guard beside it’s nest in a tall tree, while on a lower branch a hunched up night heron the servile vizier to the magnificent bird above.
We passed a tacky tourist lunch stop as bad as any bus station for the back packers crammed inside and on top of the fibreglass tourist boat and couldn’t but help raise a glass of chilled chenin blanc and dip an asparagus spear into Dean’s hollandaise sauce.
Grey-headed Fish Eagle
The single file short cut through the scrub, stopping for long tail boats loaded with beer and rice, wooden boats with giant water jars. We emerged to an open plain where the trees had been cut down. Home to a transient people living on their small house boats or shelters on the river bank as the water receded. Strange pivoting bamboo fishing nets were lowered into the water then then raised showing a whicker based tied to the bottom to catch the fish.
A floating house being towed to deeper water through a village of stilted houses
A fat pelican sat on the porch of a floating house. An unhappy monkey ran around on a chain in the full sun on a bamboo fishing platform and a full grown otter seemed ok as it scampered round the girl who held it’s leash.
The stilted houses lining the still flooded banks of the middle Sangke River
Telephone masts were visible in the distance, the river banks rose above the water and motorbikes parked beside the houses, we’d reached the upper Sangke. Beautifully painted pagodas in stark contrast to Cham mosques. Elegant wooden houses with tiled roofs on stilts between sugar palm and kapok trees.
A pagoda on the river banks not far from Battambang
Lena and Sebastian safely delivered to their garden enclave in Pum Wat Kor upstream of the town, I breathed a sigh of relief as the extra hot, double shot latte created by Chenda was placed on the little wooden table in front of me at Knyei Cafe.
Twice cooked beef with Seb and Lena at Jaan Bai cooking school restaurant then Jamesons and bed.
Weddingitis had infected the town and the Seng Hout Hotel where we’d booked to stay had a particularly virulent attack so we kept on going to find another bland box like building with half the Cardamon Forest used to make the furniture but ice cool rooms with no aesthetic distractions to sleep.
The Battambang bicycle tour of the city with San.
First stop gold, bra cups, fruit, meat, fish. The crammed Psa Thmei or new market, built by the French.
Psa Thmei We crossed the quayside and down the dry banks to the ferry man who took us across the river to the monk school at Bovil Pagoda.
A monk house at Bovil Pagoda, Manus & Lena crossing the river
Singing rang out from the Catholic Church, which had the enthusiasm of an American black baptist congregation not the stilted formality of a Catholic communion. Time was getting short and the Bamboo Train beckoned so we had to forgo the black man in the middle of the road.
Giant wood spiders had weaved their webs over the rail tracks. Battambang rice fields stretched to Phnom Sampaeu.
A one way system, lift off the bamboo platform, remove the axles and let the oncoming norrie through.
Indochine Exploration organises overnight and longer trips to Battambang by boat when the river is high or by road when it’s not.
Nick (left), Lena & Sebastian on board a norrie