Floating Village, Temples and Elephant Ride

Trip Start Jul 02, 2012
Trip End Oct 04, 2012

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Wednesday, September 19, 2012

After another delicious breakfast at the hotel, our tour guide for the morning picked us up in a car and took us through some villages to the entrance to Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia. Passing through the villages was mind blowing.  With all the rain over the past few weeks the river has finally burst its banks and much of the area is flooded.  We saw unbelievable sights – shops and houses surrounded by water, children wading waist deep, mud and dirty brown water everywhere.  Words cannot describe it very well – the photos probably tell a better story.

Arriving at the dock, we made our way through the hoardes of Korean tourists (they are the most common touist here and move about by the busload), down to the jetty where all manner of small boats waited to take us out on the lake to see the Floating Village.  Our boat was at the back and for a moment I thought we were going to have to climb our way across several boats to get there but our guide must have seen my rather transparent face and after some rapid discussion, the boat driver manoeuvred his way closer to the jetty.  We still climbed over a couple of boats to get to ours but it wasn't too bad.

Once on the boat, off we went out on to the lake.  The lake is a fascinating place....this is directly from Wikipedia:
  • For most of the year the lake is fairly small, around one metre deep and with an area of 2,700 square km. During the monsoon season, however, the Tonlé Sap river, which connects the lake with the Mekong river, reverses its flow. Water is pushed up from the Mekong into the lake, increasing its area to 16,000 square km and its depth to up to nine metres, flooding nearby fields and forests. The floodplain provides a great breeding ground for fish
    The pulsing system with its large floodplain, rich biodiversity, and high annual sediment and nutrient fluxes from Mekong makes the Tonlé Sap one of the most productive inland fisheries in the world, supporting over three million people and providing over 75% of Cambodia's annual inland fish catch and 60% of Cambodians protein intake. At the end of the rainy season, the flow reverses and the fish are carried downriver. 
After about ten minutes of zooming across the muddy water, we came upon the floating village of Chong Khneas.  This is an unbelievable place with more than 400 families living on all manner of floating houses ranging from barely held together shacks on a platform floating on bamboo, to well built sturdy structures.  There were 2 schools, a temple, police station and lots of shops.  There are 170 villages like this one on the lake with around 80,000 inhabitants.  Life expectancy in the villages is only 54 years, 12% of children die before the age of 5 and one out of two are malnourished.  The average annual income of most households is less than USD 500.  

Again, the photos will tell more than words can describe.  It was yet another very humbling experience reminding us how little one really needs to be satisfied in life and how good life is in a country like New Zealand. 

After our time at the floating village, we were dropped at a big river boat for lunch.  This was a boat that used to make a trading run between Vietnam and Cambodia but is now permanently anchored in the lake for tourism.  While the tour description made this part of the tour sound exciting,and magnificent, the reality was quite different with the boat being old and run down.  We were the only 2 people on the entire boat and after giving our lunch order to a very young and surly looking girl, we wondered what we were in for.  I went downstairs to have a look around and the state of the kitchen convinced me we would be better off forfeiting this part of the tour and heading back to dry land.  There were bugs everywhere, a puppy running freely around and just a scrap of dirty material hanging as a kitchen door.  Add to that the godzilla bees that took a liking to dive bombing us and I suddenly took sick and we asked to be taken back to shore! 

After another delicious lunch in a cafe in town, our tuk tuk took us out to Ta Phrom, a temple built largely in the late 12th and early 13th centuries.  After the fall of the Khmer empire in the 15th century, the temple of Ta Prohm was abandoned and neglected for centuries. When the effort to conserve and restore the temples of Angkor began in the early 20th century, Ta Prohm was singled out because it was one of the most imposing temples and the one which had best merged with the jungle.  It is an astounding place, with trees and their massive roots weaving through the temple ruins.  It was hot and humid when we visited which added to the atmosphere. 

Coming out of the temple we were accosted by children selling flutes, magnets and all sorts of other souvenirs.  They have it down to a fine art and in the end we paid $1 for 3 flutes (after the boy started out at 1 for $2!), just to stop the swarm of children from harassing us!

A short tuk tuk ride later and we arrived at the gates of the Bayon Temple where we climbed up to a high platform and got on an elephant.  It is something I have always wanted to so and I loved it!  Michael was very unsure at the idea but as has become his style during the trip, he is always willing to give things a go and he loved it too.  The view from that high up is great, it is a lovely rolling motion as th elephant gently pads along, and it was a great experience.  At the end, we bought a pineapple of one of the vendors and fed it to the elephant as a thank you - also a cool experience!

Once we got back to the hotel, we had a quick swim before having dinner by the pool.  Having enjoyed the massage so much last night, we decided to make the most of our last night in Siem Reap and took the tuk tuk back in to town where we treated ourselves (at the princely sum of $20 for the 3 of us for an hour!) to another very relaxing massage.  

Another great day! 

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Rebecca on

Looks like a great day!

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