There’s a number of ways to get from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. By plane, by road or by speedboat. The Bladdamasta family had already experienced a minibus ride on Cambodian roads and a plane was a tad extravagant. Truthfully though, it wouldn’t be true to the Back of the Ferry creed if I didn’t force the family onto a 6 hour voyage. That said – 5 to 6 hours travelling across a freshwater sea and down a river is far more appealing that being cooped in a bus for not much less time.
Tickets are purchased in Siem Reap for USD$37 a head and include a pick- up at your guesthouse. Don’t worry if the mini-bus arrives at your hotel after the scheduled time of ferry departure – the ferry won’t leave until the ticketed passengers arrive. Also don’t be concerned if you think there is no possible way the mini-bus can accomodate you andcyour family of six’ luggage in what looks to be an already overloaded van. The driver is skilled in bag and human Tetris and even after we were on board he picked up another 3 backpackers. Once you arrive at the wharf, grab a seat downstairs for your luggage. Other than using the W.C., this is the last time you should go downstairs. It’s fetid and humid , with no ventilation.
The roof is where the action is. It is about 6 feet wide with quite small rails on each side. These rails double as a handrail for those using the running board to go down each side of the speedboat. We grabbed a spot close to the front which had a small alcove that you could hide behind from the head wind. This might sound a little risky sitting on flat roof motoring on a speedboat, but there was never a rock or roll to be had. The speedboat powers its way to Phnom Penh very smoothly.
The first two hours of the journey take you across Tonle Sap Lake and often there’s only water on each horizon. The occasional fishing boat is passed, but it is a flat open lake. Couple of hours in and the Tonle Sap Lake turns into the Tonle Sap River. Things get really interesting. Plenty more boats and a substantial number of houses and boats go past. Fascinating stuff. For the most part it’s pretty rural, but every now and then you sail through a big community, temples and all. Friendly waves (the human kind the whole way). For the first couple of hours I sat on the roof. After a while, I jumped down to the running board and hung on to the hand rail. That made for an extreme moment of Side of the Speedboat drinking. Unfortunately the Back of the Speedboat is not a great place. (I sculled that beer). Black smoke sails over your head and the engine thunders away from its exposed position.