Prek Toal the Hard Way

Prek Toal The Hard Way (by kayak)

The current was flooding up the channel and a Southerly headwind was blowing as we set off from the boat station at Maichrey. Clouds grew dark then faded or pulled down by the weight of the moist air they released heavy drops of rain, which exploded around our kayak and soaked us from the start. ‘Tow na Bong?’ They asked Buntha. ‘Prek Toal,’ ‘oey chngai!’ very far they shrieked.

With the wind and the current against us we seemed to be standing still but eventually made it to Maichrey Pagoda, where we rewarded ourselves with the ‘scrogg’ of cashews and dried apricots I’d brought. The children watched as the aliens (well me) rested on their spacecraft before heading for brave new worlds, in our case Prek Toal.

The easy but longer route was via the open lake, the shorter route turned out to be straight ahead over the flooded scrub but we didn’t know the way. The long tailed fibreglass narrow boats with their mind numbing engines have replaced the slow chug of the heavy wooden craft but now their deafening echo was a welcome reassurance that we were going the right way. The Prek Toal telephone mast and later the roof of the tall school (on stilts) confirmed it.

We emerged into the village beside the pagoda. ‘Mow pi na?’ they shouted. ‘Battambang,’ Buntha replied. We were so strange they weren’t sure whether to believe that we were paddling the 90 km to Battambang*.

*Not so strange as later we did, see The Sangke River kayak entry in the website blogs

Veasna Buntha’s wife’s family home was a flotilla of houses and shops combined with a pool hall, crocodile cages and the largest floating garden in the village, which reminded me of the dreamtime animal island in the Life of Pie.

Floating pool hall with concrete table, pot bellied brother in law playing with 10 year old girl for 2000 Riel.

Colours come out as the sun goes down and the motorboats make a dance with each other across the channel. 3 families together generator so we had light and the children a TV. They watched the KTV show and made the motions in time with the plastic dancers on the television. The noisy long tails pulled up to drop off the pool players.

Delicately baked fish fresh from the lake, chili, peanut and lemon sauce and with vegetables washed down with copious quantities of ice-cold Angkor beer, after a long kayak we were at peace with the world.

My bed was in line of the breeze next to the crocodile cage and around the corner the toilet ‘au natural’.

The generator ran out at 10 and the shuffling of the crocodiles and ringing of the insects took over from the noise of the pool players sending me to sleep.

Lazy bones, I was the last to wake to a cool grey morning, great for kayaking. We loaded our boat, bade goodbye to Buntha’s family and paddled the short distance to a breakfast place for noodles and beef.

The day was calm and the wind with us so we decided to paddle the longer route via the open lake. Sustained by ‘scrogg’ and innumerable bottles of water we tried a short cut through the trees at the edge of the lake. Water hyacinth blocked us at each turn until we found a break in the weeds that lead to a floating camp of illegal fishermen. Unperturbed by the harmless barang* they pointed the way to the lake and we slogged it back to the Maichrey boat station. *Barang lit Frenchman is the term used for all foreigners

Indochineex Adventures in Cambodia is pleased to take guests to the floating village of Prek Toal and the flooded forests of the Core Bird Reserve. We kayak between the trees back to Prek Toal Village for lunch on a day trip or overnight sleeping in a home stay as per the description above. We’d be delighted if anyone wants to do the kayak across the lake to the village but given the state of our shoulders the next day we suggest a motorboat back.

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