We were up early this morning to check out of our hotel and be ready to board a bus to the little town of Kampong Cham at 8.30 am.
This is the dry season and the rice in the countryside has all been harvested, the stubble has been burnt to fertilise the next crop and the land looks brown, dry, and uninviting. South of Siem Reap is the giant Lake Tonle Sap. It holds an enormous amount of water and is the largest body of fresh water in SE Asia. At the moment, the water level is too low for our boat / ship to be able to navigate so we had to travel by bus to where the boat was moored on the Mekong river.
Our five hour trip around the eastern side of the lake on Highway 6 covered a little over 270 kms and took us through many villages and over many small streams that flow into the lake. The roadway well made but in many places it was still being repaired from last season’s floods so our going was rather slow. We stopped a couple of times for rest stops and we finally reached the ship by about 1.30 pm. In some ways, the trip by bus allowed us to look in on local villages and I think that it was probably more interesting than travelling all day by boat across the centre of a large featureless lake.
Our first stop was at an historic bridge that no longer carries traffic other than motorcycles, pedestrians and pony carts. The road has been diverted to a new bridge that has been built with foreign aid. In fact, we crossed a number of bridges that had been funded by the Australian Government and these were easily identified by a kangaroo carved into the approach on either side..
It was interesting to see the local houses which were mostly built in stilts to avoid the floods of the wet season. The biggest problem for the local population here is sanitation. Some more advanced families have large clay pot water purifiers that filter and treat the water from underground wells but proper toilets are very scarce indeed. As a result sickness levels are high and the death rate of children under three years is something like 3%. This is a very poor country and significant aid and education is needed to bring their health standards up to par.
Near the end of our journey, we travelled through many hectares of rubber plantations. These were a mix of olld and young trees and they stretched for as far as the eye can see. Rubber trees will produce latex after about five years of growth and continue producing until the tree is about 25 years old. Then they must be replaced with younger trees. A by product of this area is a large trade in timber for firewood (from the old trees) and we could see many places where cut timber was stacked for transportation and sale.
As soon as we reached our ship (the Cruiseco Adventurer) we had a delicious lunch and then had free time for the rest of the afternoon as we sailed upstream to a little village that we will explore tomorrow. We had a compulsory safety drill at 5.00 pm, complete wit life jackets, and then a daily briefing at 6.30 pm with the cocktail of the day. Tonight we were introduced to the crew. Dinner was a three course meal with some very tender Australian lamb. I’ll take some photos of the ship for my post that I will put up tomorrow.
The river is fairly active with local fishermen. It is about 1km wide and at this time of the year, it is not flowing very fast. It is clearly used as a transport route between villages.