As a break from temples, on our second day, we headed out of Siem Reap to visit one of Lake Tonlé Sap’s “floating villages.” There are a number of floating villages, but I believe the one we visited was Kompong Phluk, not far outside Siem Reap. Most of these villages aren’t truly floating, but can give the appearance of doing so during rainy season, because of the extremely high waters. They’re actually built as if on stilts, with storage space crafted beneath the house floor and the supporting poles. During our visit, the water was high, but not so high as to reach the house bottoms.
We switched to a boat in a small village located on a small river (canal?) leading to the lake. Our guide had intended for us to stop at the market leading up to the dock, but it had rained heavily up until we reached the village, rendering the ground a red clay quagmire. So we passed on the market. The ride was relatively smooth and pleasant (mind you, I am not a boat person at all, though I did okay on the ferry ride around Kagoshima bay), and we saw cows and long-legged birds along the river banks. Once we were in the flooded forest heading to the village, we looked for snakes and birds in the trees, but saw only the latter.
At first blush, the village is fascinating to see, picturesque, and that feeling lingered for a good part of the tour. We went along the main “road,” which leads out to the lake proper. There’s houses, a Catholic church, a school, restaurants, etc. And a lovely Buddhist temple which is actually on an island. The waters were dotted with water hyacinth, fishing nets and small fish hatcheries. We were passed by the local grocery, a small boat laden with bottled water and other supplies for the residents to purchase. As is usual for me, I snapped many photos as we headed out to the lake. We did not last long on the lake, as the water was choppy and my fear of deep water came rushing to the fore. So we turned around and headed back into the floating village.
Back in the village, we opted to stop for a beer (Angkor beer is a decent lager) and my dad and I went on a short ride in a smaller boat, steered by an elderly woman, which went off the main track and into the trees. We were forewarned by our guide that they’d take us to some other boats selling goods, which we politely declined. During the ride, it dawned on us that we really didn’t hear any birds, see any butterflies (which were all over elsewhere) or any other signs of animal life. Other than a lone katydid that landed on my arm when we were almost back to the restaurant where we’d left my mom and the guide.
From there it was back on the boat, then back to Siem Reap for a nice lunch. Along the way we saw rice being dried, in a manner very different from what I’d been before. In Dazaifu, I saw whole sheaves of rice drying, but here they had separated the grains from the stems, and were drying them on tarps (see pic below). And we also saw something I wish I could’ve gotten a pic of: a guy with a huge pig strapped to his scooter, feet up. My dad talked about having seen that sort of thing in Korea, where they would get the pigs drunk on mash, then tie them up and take the drunk piggie off for dinner.
Away from the village, we could reflect a bit more on what we’d seen, which is rather unsettling when you stop to think about the villagers using the lake waters for everything (Yes, everything; our guide warned us not to eat at the restaurant in the village. The residents are used to the water, but we’re obviously not.), and being on display like a living museum. I hope that at least some of what we spent on the tour trickles down to the villagers, as they really need access to clean water. All throughout the trip I felt badly about ignoring the many hawkers, most of whom were children, but there are pleas all over to not encourage the kids, as they should be in school. I know a handful of dollars would go a long ways for an individual family, but I’ll have to hope for tourism money to bring about change to a wider group. Idealistic, given the track record of the current government, but I can hope.
As before, my Cambodia pics are here.
Next up: last day, round two with Ta Prohm.