The North West Passage

THE NORTH WEST PASSAGE Our mission to boldly go where no kayak had ever been before.

As an avid reader of the Indochine Exploration Blogs you will be aware of my sexual fantasies around water management in Angkor. I am not alone and discovered over a latte at Little Red Fox another closet water fetishist Jady Smith.

Jady represents the New Zealand Government in their support for restoration of the infrastructure that allowed the world’s greatest empire of it’s time to flourish.

I had been lucky enough to explore and understand – a little, Damian Evan’s explanation of how the Angkorians built canals, reservoirs and diverted river systems to make Angkor inhabitable 12 months of the year a thousand years ago.

Siem Reap is no more hospitable now, well yes you can get a latte and a glass of wine but mid-March we’re 3 months into the dry season with no rain, temperatures over forty and if you’re lucky a dribble of water when you turn the tap on, the problem is even more prescient.

There’s also the implicit threat of what water mismanagement did to the Angkorian Empire – caused it’s downfall so the theory goes.

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The site of the Angkorian Bridge where water is now diverted from the town to The North Baray (photo taken during dry season when water a lot lower)

In an attempt to mitigate all of that and return the Angkor Park to it’s original state and so raise the ground water level to support the temple foundations, a canal had been cut from the Siem Reap River North of the Park to the North Baray Reservoir and on to the Great West Baray.

A mission needs a plan and today’s master architect Jady Smith devised a wicked scheme, we’d launch the kayaks beside the dam on the Siem Reap River and paddle. ‘What next JD?’ I eagerly enquired. ‘We’ll see when we get there’, ?

The dam diverting the river had caused it to flood the surrounding countryside creating a maze of waterways, which we spent a happy half hour exploring. Not wanting to pour scorn on our plan but feeling slightly cheated if getting lost was the main aim, we decided to try again and retraced our route back to the dam where we’d started.
By following the current we found the channel we’d been looking for. An ugly scar across the landscape 12 months ago when it was dug now a naturally landscaped water feature of beauty.

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The North West Channel

Delicate yellow saray flowers floated proud of the waterlily leaves. Kingfishers flitted from the overhanging boughs and cormorants and darters dried their wings on the skeleton branches of dead trees.

The current had caught us and carried the kayaks towards the West Baray, I thought but Jady’s plan had a different destination in store. We reached a cross roads in the channel; right towards to Angkor Crau Village and the West Baray and left where the current lead to the open sluice on the North Baray and hence to Neak Pean and Preah Khan Temples in the heart of the Park.

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A welcoming committee of Apsara temple workers had assembled on the banks to greet us

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And wanted a ride

Todays trip had been a very special adventure and I was humbled to have paddled through the middle of the ancient cities of Angkor, a common place boat ride for the inhabitants a thousand years ago but not oft repeated since.

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