I started today thinking it was going to be a day off; I went to bed exhausted after the heat of Angkor but woke up early, refreshed, and decided I may as well join the morning excursion out to Tonlé Sap lake to see the floating village. There were some conflicting reviews about the worth of the trip, but for the sake of the $10, I thought it would be scenery, if nothing else!
Because I had booked late, I was relegated to a tuk-tuk to take us to the lake shore. Panha was most apologetic about that, but I preferred it – and it sounded like most of the others would rather have ridden a tuk-tuk than the thirteen-seater coach. They had air-con, I had open air!
After about a twenty-minute ride, we arrived at the terminal, and hung around while Panha sorted our tickets and picked us out a boat. It was a two-man crew; an older guy who drove and a twelve-year-old deckhand who pushed us off from the dock and tended to the propeller, which periodically needed to be raised or lowered depending on the water depth. Being the start of the rainy season (and hence the end of the dry season) the water level in the canal and lake were low.
The canal runs from just south of Siem Reap down to Tonlé Sap Lake and looks to be of recent origin. Panha mentioned investment by a foreign government but I didn’t catch all of what he said. Along the banks were fishermen with their conical nets which they would periodically fling out over the water, covering a wide area, and then haul back in to see what they’ve caught. There were also people wading or sitting in the shallows who looked to be scavenging the river bed. As well as the tourist boats there were smaller, more nimble craft carrying fewer people and, in some cases, light cargo. We passed boat parking and construction areas along the way.
The canal eventually opens out into Tonlé Sap Lake itself, a massive body of water, even in the dry season, which eventually flows down to join the Mekong at Phnom Penh. Despite its vast area I don’t think it was very deep – at least where we were – as the people in the smaller boats who were poling their craft along didn’t seem to have to immerse their oar very far to get purchase.
The lake is littered with boats and houses and all manner of other things built on bamboo pontoons. According to Panha there is quite a community living full-time here – including a lot of Vietnamese illegal immigrants, several of which pulled-up alongside us to sell cold drinks or photos with the small python they carried. Their boats were small and in really poor condition; some of them looked like they were rotting and typically the parent who was driving would be baling out while the children did their sales pitch on us.
While we did see the Floating Village, we didn’t visit it – something to do with the water being too low or our boat too large. Instead we went to a floating
tourist trap café/shop/crocodile farm, where we got to watch captive crocodiles basking in the sun awaiting slaughter. There were the usual selection of souvenirs and drinks to be had and Panha bought a plate of cooked snake for us try. It was a lot like jerky; thin slices and fairly tough, but had a fishy aftertaste. I got my refreshments and pottered around taking photographs until it was time to go.
On the whole, I thought this trip was better than its equivalent in Bangkok: Both the canal and the lake and the people and industries on them were worth seeing and it was a lot cheaper too!
There was some confusion when the coach got back to town as Panha tried to slip in a visit to an Artisans Workshop when most of the group wanted lunch. The on-site branch of the Blue Pumpkin Café only served generic western food which many of us didn’t fancy, so we decided to skip the workshop tour and head into the old town, where we ate Khmer again.
After lunch, I spent the afternoon sorting through my photos and doing some writing while Brett and several others went to the pool at the hotel next door. In the evening we met up with most of the group to take advantage of the half-price cakes at a local 5-star hotel. Even with us in shorts sandals and t-shirts, looking very much like backpackers, the staff were very welcoming and gave us good service. They had a selection of lovely looking patisserie and, in keeping with my other meal choices so far, I had two of them. (Really, Cambodian portions are tiny once you discard the rice!)
We headed back to the old town in search of dinner and after the inevitable bit of wandering, looking for the recommended restaurant, we ate and made it back to the Ladyboy show at the Market to introduce those who hadn’t seen it yet. They were just as repelled/morbidly fascinated as we had been the night before.
Then it was home to pack, as we leave for Kampong Cham in the morning! Onwards!