Travel on the waterways follows a hierarchy similar to travel on the streets: a little of everything from one-person push-powered rafts to large people-movers that churn in endless lines through tourist sites.
The best (most relaxing, most scenic) travel is via river raft, a long array of parallel bamboo poles, turned up at each end, and pushed with a long pole much like a Cambridge punt. There are a lot of similarities in the design, the major difference being the water seeping between the poles (especially when the whole raft submerges going over dams) and the 180-degree spin that boatsmen give the pole after each push. I’m dying to try this technique out when I’m at Scudamores again.
As with bicycles, these rafts are also used commercially for fishing and to deliver fresh fish and shrimp to tour boats. When ferrying tourists, they are often armed with pump-action water cannons to keep the kids amused, so people tend to give one another some space.
Add a motor, and the same raft becomes a lethal missile, arrowing up and down the banks and darting between the boats. The motor is a single-stroke engine driving a propeller at the end of a long ole – this keeps it from catching on the bottom and simplifies steering. They travel in packs that remind me of Apocalypse Now.
Boats and barges are large and, in contrast to the cars, well regimented as they ply the rivers. Navigation buoys are oppositely arranged from what we use in the US, but the signaling via horns and lights is very familiar. Boats load up with tourists in the morning and take off, single file, to visit countryside and canyon for three hour trips. No wilderness experience, but the on-board dining and open-air viewing is superb.
Oh, right, and the baby…