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Backpackers in nightmare on Siem Reap express boat

Backpackers in nightmare on Siem Reap express boat

P ozens of backpackers have slammed a new "fast" ferry service from Phnom Penh to

Siem Reap, dubbing it "The horror ride to Hell", after the long-tail boat broke

down stranding 60 passengers in the middle of the Tonle Sap for four

hours.

Passengers taking the ferry, which left Phnom Penh at 7 am were

told they would arrive 12 later. But it took the bedraggled tourists 24 hours to

reach Siem Reap - and that was only after wading ashore from the stricken boat

and hiring a truck to complete the trip.

Many passengers, who paid $15 a

ticket, did not have seats and endured the ride sitting on small planks of wood,

with pieces of paper stuffed in their ears to drown out the noise of the

motor.

"It was just like solitary confinement," said 27-year-old Martin

Lee, from New Zealand, who was traveling to Siem Reap to see Angkor

Wat.

"You couldn't talk to anyone, the engine was too noisy. The only way

to survive on that trip is to get stoned, take ear plugs, and a

catheter.

"Organizers should know that most people can't sit in those

cramped conditions for more than two hours - but when they expect passengers to

swim part of the way and sleep out under the stars, and then pay to hire a

truck, it's ridiculous.

"With 60 people who have all paid $15 each, the

organizers must be making a lot of money. It really was a horror ride to

Hell."

A spokesman for the boat company, Retsmeiy Angkor, was unavailable

for comment but Don Pheem, who sells tickets from The Capitol Hotel, said he

would stop selling tickets if there were any more complaints.

"This is

only the second time the boat has run, so we expected a few

problems.

"But, it is not right that people are paying $15 for a bad

service."

Pheem said he received a $1 commission for every ticket he

sold, the police in Phnom Penh were given $1 and the rest of the money went to

the boat company.

Our correspondent was one of the passengers who boarded

the boat near the dairy factory, only to be left up the creek without a

paddle.

For my $15 ticket, bought at The Capitol, I was allocated a small

piece of board to sit on at the back of the boat, right next to the motor.

Although I had to sit with my knees up under my chin and I didn't hear

anything except the roar of the engine for the next 16 hours, I thought I was

lucky. A crowd of Japanese tourists had to huddle together on the nose of the

boat which was not covered by a tarpaulin roof and endure hours under in the

sun.

Ten minutes after the boat pulled out of Phnom Penh, rocking

furiously whenever a person moved slightly, I realized there was no toilet, no

water on board, no food, and no chance of stopping until Siem Reap.

While

many people refrained from drinking, for fear they would have to go to the

toilet by squatting over the side of the boat. One passenger, who got sea sick,

discovered a makeshift toilet astern which had a motorbike acting as an

insubstantial screen.

At 10.30 pm the boat, which had already broken down

twice, ground to a halt in the middle of the lake.

 

After waiting two hours in the hope that the boat would be repaired or

someone would rescue us, I, along with most of the passengers took the plunge.

With shoes tied around my neck I waded through waist-deep muddy water, following

a passenger navigating by pocket torch.

Ashore, the amazed locals quickly

turned a deaf ear to our pleas for some sort of transport to Siem Reap and

instead raced home to fetch fresh fruit and noodles which they sold to hungry

passengers for 1,000 riel.

Inquiries for a place to stay for the night

were also ignored, and after stashing the night's profits in their pockets, the

locals disappeared into the darkness leaving the group to sleep under the

stars.

Once again I struck it lucky and after scanning the mud flaps,

found a wooden market bench covered with a rattan mat and a mosquito net.

Although it was cold I fell asleep, only to be woken by an old man asking me for

2,000 riel for sleeping in his bed.

But it wasn't long before a local man

with business sense rolled up in an old Ford truck and told us he would take all

of us into Siem Reap - for $3 a head. Two hours later 60 tired and angry

packpackers made it to town and headed for the airline office to book tickets

back.

So much for the "fast" boat. I recommend anyone wanting to get to

Siem Reap in a hurry to fly - or catch the slow boat.

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