Our boat journey through Cambodia from Siem Reap, across the Tonle Sap Lake and down the Sangkar River to Western Cambodia’s Battambang Town, was a particularly tricky one this month due to the combination of low water levels on the lake and a slow current on the river itself which had lead to a serious build-up of the pestilent water hyacinth. It might look pretty in flower but this rapidly propagating plant, which is not native to the region and indeed originates in South America, is now a major problem right across Southeast Asia clogging up many of the region’s waterways. It doesn’t root in the river or lake bed but just floats on the surface – sometimes breaking into small clumps or at other times amassing in huge enmeshed rafts as the current takes it.
Heavier rains in the hills create a stronger water flow which then flushes out much of the floating vegetation into the lake itself but with the rainy season only just tentatively getting underway the drifting mats of weed were building up at river bottlenecks such as the congested Prek Toal floating village and on the shallow sandbanks at the river’s mouth.
Having taken something of a run-up and hurtled headlong into the mass of stalks and leaves we’d quickly reached the point of no return and with fishermen knee-deep in water and crews from various other struggling boats shouting directions to our struggling boatmen it still took around an hour to make the short 1 km or so hop from the lake to Prek Toal itself.
At times then our boat was struggling over a solid mass of hyacinths with hardly any open water in site and with stops to untangle the propeller required every few minutes. Felt a bit like seeking the northwest passage at times though with vast expanses of greenery replacing the ice flows.
Having eventually reached the village we made our regular stop at the Saray water hyacinth project which whilst undoubtedly making an impact on the local villagers’ lives is never going to make any impact on the quantity of the weed though one of our travellers interestingly queried the potential to manufacture biodiesel to supply all the region’s boats which would be an awesome scheme if practical. (Any bio-chemists out there?)
From Prek Toal onwards the boat journey continued as planned; plenty of bird life to be seen and all the fascinating floating, stilt and houseboat villages.
One major benefit of losing time on the first section of the journey was that arrival time in Battambang was consequently a couple of hours later so the last part of the trip turned into a spectacular sunset cruise before we reached our destination ready for a couple of cold wet ones and an excellent curry at the excellent White Rose Restaurant.
This boat journey through Cambodia was part of our Cambodia Overland tour. An eventful but fascinating and scenic day trip – cheers!