Battambang. Yeah, snicker…every time I hear the name I think of Rick Mayall and Ade Edmonson talking about the world’s stupidest bottom burp. Or Cartman and his boy band “Fingerbang”. It is at the same time a riot and yet slightly unsavoury.

A lot of travellers bypass Battambang in their rush to get straight to Siem Reap, but that would be a mistake. Linger a while and you’ll be rewarded. Next time I go, I know I will.

The city itself is lush, green and lovely. Think Luang Prabang with less temples. The province is the richest in Cambodia, which isn’t saying much, but there you are. There’s an absence of desperation, of poverty-stricken street people begging and clutching, and instead a sense of content languor. It’s like the people here know they’ve got it good.

As my ride from the bus-station told me: “You must stay more than one night; this is a beautiful place, you should stay and see the temples…” But as we were leaving FROM there the next day, bound for Siem Reap to see the slightly larger temples, I demurred.

So Dom and I set off from Battambang (snicker!) early in the morning while mist still hung in the air and the heat of the day had yet to descend.

It was with trepidation that we boarded the boat. We expected a covered-over tourist type longboat, but as we stepped down the ricketty steps to the water we saw that ours was…well, a canoe. With no cover. We would be out in the sun for some 6 to 8 hours. Hmm. The general consensus (via Lonely Planet travel guide and online forums) was that it was the prettiest route to take; getting the boat all the way from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap would be long and featureless.

At first we were a bit aghast, but then happy to see that locals would be travelling with us. In fact, we were the only whities on the boat. As well as the driver and his mate, an old man and three mothers of various ages with their progeny and bulging tums with bubs-to-be squashed into the boat with us, stashing all manner of food, building supplies and wares to sell, in the nose of the boat and under our feet.

There were broad smiles and nods all round, as we acknowledged we couldn’t speak a word of each other’s language. Well, we knew how to say thank you and later on, I had occasion to say sorry, but we’ll get to that. Finally a monk clad in orange robes squeezed in, and with a tug of the rope, the boat was freed from the shore.

The morning was crisp and cool, my mood relaxed as the boat glided from the pier. The engine farted into life with a battambang of its own, and our adventure began.

To be continued…..