River Boat from Siem Reap to Battambang Review
It’s easy to visit a country and to spend most of your time in big cities, beaches and Islands without ever getting a glimpse of the rural countryside. After spending time in Siem Reap visiting the famous Angkor Wat, we discovered a unique way for us to get from Siem Reap to Battambang by a River Boat. I would say cruise, but I would classify it as more of an adventure.
The reviews were truly mixed. Some people quoted “adventure of a lifetime” and the “highlight of Cambodia”. While other reviewers quoted “the worst way to spend a day” and “long hot and the river was too dry”. We classify ourselves as easy going travelers, who don’t travel with expectation and are more likely to go with the flow. So we thought we would be in the “this is awesome” reviewers category.
Transportation Options from Siem Reap to Battambang and Vice Versa
If you are in Siem Reap and planning on visiting the city of Battambang, you have 2 choices of transportation. An approximate 3 hour bus ride or a 6 hour river boat adventure from Siem Reap to Battambang. The river boat goes through Tonle Sap Lake by the floating villages and then follows the river through many more floating river villages, through farmland before arriving in the downtown of Battambang. We think the choice is pretty obvious! There is a price difference, a tourist bus ride is $10 booked through an agent and the boat ride is $24.
Your experience will vary depending on the season that you take part in the river boat adventure. During or shortly after the rainy season the lake and river are very deep and the boat ride will take approximately 5-6 hours. During the dry season however, the river is quite shallow so the trip can take approximately 8-10 hours. The travel agent set this expectation for us. You can find the boat stuck at many junctions or even having to transfer to a pick up truck for a portion of the adventure. From reading the reviews, most negative reviews came from an uncomfortable 1.5 hour transfer to the back of a pick up truck on bumpy rural roads. We did not have to transfer to a pick up truck but did get stuck a couple times in the shallow river and it took us only 7.5 hours.
This was quite a unique experience seeing many enthusiast children waving, many riverboats, fishermen, floating villages, floating schools, school children boating home, wildlife, farmland, farmers and a small peak into a different way of life in rural Cambodia. Keep reading for more detail of the experience.
Video of our Boat Ride from Siem Reap to Battambang
Transportation from hotel to boat dock in siem reap
Included in the $25 ticket price is transportation from your hotel to the boat dock. To begin our journey we were picked up from our hotel at about 7 am. They were a little late but we were the last people to have been picked up. The cab was full with only 1 spots, but we were stoked to sit in the back of the truck. In fact if we were first we would have picked the same thing. It was a beautiful drive out of the city and through the country. Also a great opportunity for our GoPro along the way!
In the countryside we also drove through many Lotus flower fields. They were beautiful! If you find yourself with extra time in Siem Reap, the Lotus Flower fields were about 30-45 minute bike ride to rent a bicycle or a motorbike to walk through these beautiful fields. As an interesting fact, Cambodia is the only place in the world that harvests Lotus Flowers for lotus silk. The whole of the plant is used, the flower being used for silk, the seeds being eaten and the plant base being either eaten or used in moisturizers.
Introducing the Boat
Travelling in Asia, we always say, have no expectations so that then you will always be pleasantly surprised. The boat was definitely not what we imagined. A small boat that fit approximately 40 people aboard. It would be very tight if all 40 of us sat inside the boat, but being in Cambodia with no regulations, half of us sat on the roof of the boat for the duration of the trip. Sitting on the top of the boat, feeling the wind in your hair gave us a birds eye perspective of all there was to see in the river.
There was no enough life jackets on board, but the deepest spot we traveled to was only 1.5 meters. There was a “bathroom” but I wouldn’t suggest boarding the boat planning to use it. Use the bathroom first, there is a bathroom at lunch time. There is no food available on the boat so make sure you bring snacks and lunch. Just in case you were expecting the cruise part of the river boat tour. We left over an hour late, as we just sat there waiting for the captain. Then after this, within 5 minutes stopped for gas. Not that the captain would have foresaw that, but hey it’s all entertainment.
floating Village on Tonle Sap lake
The Tonle Sap Lake there is a drastic difference in between wet and dry season. In wet season the lake can be up to 12 meters deep and in dry season it drops to 1.5 meters. The volume of water varies considerably up to 2,500 km throughout the year. In the largest fresh water lake of Cambodia, Tonle Sap Lake, is home to floating villages that live year round in the middle of the lake, floating. There are floating stores, schools, doctors clinics, water supply, houses where thousands of people live. The people who live there make their living from the lake as fish farmers. The habitat and fish of this lake account for a large part of Cambodia’s food provisions, even in present. There is increasing concern over the over-exploitation of the river.
If you are staying in Siem Reap, a tour to the floating villages is rated in the the Top 10 things to do. You can take a day tour with pick up from your hotel, to the boat dock and then a boat to the floating village in the middle of Tonle Sap Lake where you get off to enjoy lunch and meet locals of this unique village. There are a lot of varied reviews of this tour, some saying there are a bunch of scams to have you buy over priced rice for the village. The tour price for the day is $20 per person. Taking the boat tour accomplishes seeing the floating village and many more in the river while transporting to Battambang, all for $25.
Floating Villages on the River
The river was absolutely gorgeous. The photo’s don’t look spectacular, but the scenery was pretty amazing. It was hard to narrow down our pictures to choose only a few of them. Driving through countless villages, seeing kids laughing and swimming, and seeing the real Cambodia.
Riding down the river, you get to peer into the daily lives of Cambodian’s in a floating village. See the mothers taking care of their children, people washing clothes, men playing cards and having a brew, a ceremony at a temple, school kids going to school and many people doing chores in their mini floating homes. Peering in you can’t help but be curious what the inside of these homes in like. At lunch time, you will get to see firsthand and stop at a small restaurant/floating home of a local family. At lunch, there will be one meal choice prepared and a couple snacks and drinks available for purchase.
However the river was exceptionally low in March when we went. The boat got stuck 4 or 5 times and were a little worried it would tip once. This was the first time we have ever been on a boat when the crew and captain abandoned their pants, jumped in the river, and pushed the boat forward. At one boat, the river depth was no more than just a bit above the captains ankles. In perspective after doing the trip, it should not be running during the end of dry season when the river is this low. There is undoubtedly a lot of damage been done to the ecosystem of the river as the motorboat revs it’s engine and spews the water meters high out the back.
Summary of Boat Ride from Siem Reap to Battambang
Get out of your comfort zone, ride the boat, bring a book, take some pics, and be in the moment. Bring a good lunch and get ready for an adventure with no expectations. Riding on the top of the boat (yes, we perched on the roof), we felt like we were in a parade with kids playing in the river getting so excited to wave and yell hello at our boat as we cruised by. We covered the approx 70 km distance in just under 8 hours in the height of dry season. The river was even shallower than we anticipated causing our captain and crew to abandon pants. Yes you read that correct.
Our thoughts? First of all we wouldn’t be putting this on our website if we didn’t enjoy the experience. This was really quite the adventure and a really unique way to experience rural Cambodia from a river. This day is in our top adventures of Cambodia so far! This is Nadine’s perspective, if you ask Fraser he would say he had a great time but it was a bit long so might reconsider taking it again.
If you have not booked a hotel yet we highly recommend the New Asia Hotel and they will pick you up from the ferry for free from the best Tuk Tuk driver, Mr Lizzy. If you sign up a new account, get $20 booking.com credit or $25 Air BnB credit.