We went to Battambang, the second largest city of Cambodia, by boat through Tonlé Sap Lake. This lake has a unique particularity: depending on the season, either it fills in or it empties. Actually during the dry season (from November to Mai), water flows from the Lake to the Mekong, so the lake gets “empty”. During the rainy season (from Mai to November), when the snow melts from the Himalaya, water flows from Mekong River to the Lake. The lake is considered as a “buffer zone” which protects from Mekong flooding and which also regulates its level. The “period” where the current changes direction is called the reversal of the river. The November Water Festival is “calculated” by the monks regarding the moon and is time for a big 3 days ceremony opening the fishing season. As a symbol, the King orders the water to reverse itself.
During the rainy season, the surface of the lake is multiplied by 6: the depth goes from 1 meter to 8 meter. Thus people needs to take this specificity into account: Houses are built on 8 meter high stilts and some are totally floating on the water and can move like boat to “follow fishes”. Of course the first activity for those people is fishing; the lake has very good water for fishes! It is very impressive to go through these villages. Schools, churches, shops… float on the lake and move with the waves created by boats! Our boat ride took 8 hours to Battambang. Usually, at this time of the year (beginning of the dry season), the lake should be almost full and the boat should take 5 hours to reach Battambang but the 2014 rainy season was bad and the lake quite empty…
In Battambang we rented a motorbike to visit the surroundings: Few temples from the Angkor period,
One memorial for the victims of the Khmer Rouges (I will come back on this tragedy in our next post about Phnom Penh). On the wall of this memorial, you can see sculptures about the atrocities the Khmer Rouges did to the people. It is hard to look at and even more to believe that such a cruelty exists… But it is really important, not to forget it!!! For the sunset we stopped at the bat cave. Just before the sun disappears behind the mountains, bats are coming out to hunt. Not one, not two, not hundred, not thousand, but tens of thousands. They fly in a row and make a huge shadow in the sky!!!
Another touristic attraction not to miss is the well known « Bamboo train ». This old transport was used by the local people; nowadays it is only used by the tourists. The “coaches” are made with bamboo, put on axle and set in motion by a petrol engine. As the railway has only one “line”, each time we meet someone coming from the opposite direction, one of the two has to “dismantle” the coach to let the other one go. The first time it happened, we were surprised. Less than 1 minute is needed to dismantle the coach and the same time is needed to “rebuild” it. The joy ride is pleasant. You don’t really see the landscape (because of the trees next to the railway) but being 40 cm above the floor at a 30km/h speed is a nice feeling!!! Just a pity that the ride is 5 USD each!!! Of course, after all of these, it was time for us to celebrate our 8 months of traveling, 5 years of engagement, Romain 28 birthday and of course Christmas Eve… So for all of these reasons (even if we don’t really need specific reasons, just a pretext), we had a good time: dinner with a show and of course foie gras, duck filet and chocolate dessert and… an hotel with private Jacuzzi!! Christmas in “summer” is a bit weird, without our families is even weirder but we enjoyed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (with a Nutella breakfast…)