One thing that always confused me about boats in Asia ever since we got here was the great variety of them that one could choose from: a slow fast-boat, a slow-boat, a fast slow-boat and of course the fast-boat. I am not sure which type of fast/slow boat we bought a ticket for the day before, but we boarded what looked like a small boat, smaller and fuller than I anticipated. Once the boat reached its full speed, I decided that it was not the slowest boat we ever boarded, nor the fastest, but somewhere in the middle, which could mean it was either a slow fast-boat, or a fast slow-boat - to me it is somewhat the same, but ask a local and he/she will disagree.
The speed at which we moved along the river was slow enough to observe the sights, but too fast to take photos. Myles took almost all of the photos; I just sat back and enjoyed the views. I saw people extracting a living out of the very river we were using as a highway. Some boats appeared as though they were mere extensions of the person sitting/standing on top. Each person, young or old, balanced on his/her boat effortlessly, with the ease of someone who was born on the river. There were hundreds of empty water bottles on the river; they were being used to keep the edges of fishing nets up in the water. Many homes looked like they were constructed out of whatever washed up on shore, and some looked like they were about to provide building materials for downstream construction. Most of the small riverside villages we passed had beautiful pagodas sitting prominently in the distance, always creating a sharp juxtaposition with the small, scattered homes below.
When we reached Tonle Sap Lake, we passed homes built right on the water. Elaborate fishing nets were stretched above the water on movable, bamboo scaffolding. Our boat made its way through narrow channels carved out of rich lake vegetation, stopping once in a while to remove whatever wound itself around the propeller. We proceeded slowly, with caution. The branches of the vegetation on either side of the boat snapped into the boat on occasion, giving its passengers a reason to wake up from the sunny, repetitive spell they were under. No one talked as long as the boat was moving, as the engine was louder than any shouting a human could sustain.
Eight hours later we were dropped off on shore in a village roughly 12 to 20 km from Siem Reap (depending on who you asked). Yes, we did purchase a boat ticket to Siem Reap, but if you look on the map you'll realize that it is not physically possible to get there on a boat. Nevertheless, at least one traveler complained against that very fact. Easy for us to say, we just loaded our bikes and headed for Siem Reap.
The ride was only about 12 kms. We stopped at the edge of town to cool down over some cold fluids. There are countless guesthouse options in town. We decided on one, but it was full. A 100m further there was another guesthouse. Welcome home.
We fell asleep to the sound of karaoke and dogs howling. Our window was broken, and couldn't be closed. We stayed cooler for it.
Watching the fast boat pass us by, I became envious. Our boat was definitely the slow-boat. Silently I said to myself, slow and steady is okay. The guidebook mentions that some of people living on the rivers do not like the boats going by, as they have an effect on their lives. Seeing people on the river with nets out, eking out as many fish as they could, I instantly understood. Yet, our boat carried some locals on board. It made me wonder what came first the locals on boats or the tourists. In the guidebook it mentions taking the slow boat as being the lesser of the two evils. I felt our boatmen were very careful throughout the journey, as they passed people fishing or living on the river/lake system. Along the way we passed homes of wood and thatch that stood on land, were raised on stilts in the water or floated. With these came the food from the river, plants, and trees. If it was a home on land then cows and goats were nearby. If it was a house on water then chickens, ducks and even pigs were around. We passed magnificent systems designed for catching fish. As the net rises high out of the water the fish fall down into a basket that they cannot swim out of, then it is lowered back into the water to be raised again later.