Departing Siem Reap at 5am, we climb into the loading area of a bashed up pickup truck and head for the river ferry.
The ride is dusty, and increasingly cramped as more and more tourists and their baggage are loaded into the already full cargo area. However, I'm thankful for the baggage pinning me down as we bounce along the 'superhighway' (a cratered dust track) for the river.
Beating our way past the bread and cheese sellers. we teeter up a dodgy plank over scum filled waters to the 'boat terminal' (a floating shack) and climb aboard an elongated speedboat. Descending into its interior, we discover that it is already full. On instructions from the driver, we shove people along and squeeze in... then another 20 or so join us. Realising that the propeller is now firmly embedded in the mud, the driver moves a dozen people onto a smaller boat - and we're off.
We blast across the Tonle Sap lake, heading right at its mouth and on towards Battembang - the journey was said to take five hours, but its looking like we'll arrive in three. That is, until we stop for a pit stop in a small floating village an hour into the journey.
Here we're transferred onto a number of smaller boats since the water level will not allow our original boat to continue. Ours is last - and the only wooden one (the rest being modern fibreglass numbers). Fortunately, I get the front seat - on the bow! One of our fellow passengers, Jason (mk 2), is less fortunate - he gets shunted behind the bus engine and gets a mouthful of exhaust fumes before fighting his way forward a little - only to have the engine give him a cracking headache, and almost claim his fingers (who needs a cover for a flywheel?).
We set off again, and promptly stop a few hundred yards on where one of our boatmen proceeds to plaster mud and grass into a gaping hole at the front. When he's done, he takes his seat beside the driver, and proceeds to bail the boat out - a task he continues for the five hours it takes us to arrive at Battambang.
Along the way we pass numerous villages, and countless fishermen each of whom has a stretch of river to fish. Some have huge bamboo cranes with drag nets, others boats with nets and yet others with just hand nets - we discover that they are limited to an area and method of fishing according to the amount of money they bid in an annual fishing rights auction.
The river got so shallow in places that our bailing man and the driver had to get out and drag us upstream - a job I would not relish myself given the amount of flotsam and sun bloated dead fish floating past...
The other memorable sight, is children. As we pass villages, or solitary houses, or schools near the river bank, we invariably hear the sound of children shouting "Hello, Hello, Hello" as we pass. We all feel like royalty - and wave back with gusto.
We eventually arrive (safely) at Battembang, somewhat sunburnt and haggard but intact.
We're met by a sea of waiting touts on motos - all clamouring to get our attention. Oddly, they are only advertising two hotels. And little did we know that we'd start a war by choosing the less popular of the two...