Phluk and Temple

Trip Start Jun 01, 2010
Trip End Mar 11, 2011

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Where I stayed
Sala Bai Hotel Siem Reap
Read my review - 5/5 stars

Flag of Cambodia  ,
Saturday, January 29, 2011

Our guide, Sim, is sort of a school teacher. He proudly tells that he has been teaching history and English to some of his colleagues. We find him and the driver waiting at the hotel as we return from our breakfast down the street. On our first day of exploring the Cambodian country side we are going to visit a number of temples and fisherman's town of Kampong Phluk.

We do not start too early today so we head out around nine o clock. First we have to buy our temple passes for the many many Angkor temples so we quickly stop at the ticket office and get ours. The passes give us three days of access to all the temples in the area. And there are many of them, each with different styles, materials and features. But they all share the same idea, they are built by a King to honor mostly himself, a god or his family or a combination of the latter.

Our first stop is a smaller temple, we call it the temple with no name as we just forgot the name of it. Our guide explains the features of the temple and the general lay out. This would apply to any other temple we would see later on this week. Luckily it was not that crowded so we had a good chance to make some nice photographs and explore the details of this temple.

After all the temple exposure it was time for food. We were delivered to one of the many typical tourist bus stop eateries. The food was not cheap, but decent. Halfway down our dinner we were invaded by a battalion of the Cambodian army whom occupied the seats next to us, or better half the restaurant. Loads of beer were fed to the soldiers. We felt somewhat uncomfortable by the military presence and finished up quickly to get out of there.

We resumed our way through the rice fields towards the fisherman's village of Kampong Phluk. On our way we stopped by the river to see some kids fishing for small fishes with nets. Well river, I would call it a moat, not much bigger that the one in the back yard of my mother's house in Holland. Apparently during the rainy season, this little moat swells up to a serious river, but not today. Still the kids fish out hands full of little fish, no bigger than my middle finger. These fishes are used for various dishes from stews to grilled.

Next to the river there is a strange concrete construction about 3 floors high. I asked Sim what this was for, and he explained that this is the community center. The people collected donations and build this building to be used for celebrations. We climbed up the ladders to the roof of the structure. From here there was a magnificent view of the surrounding rice fields. On the first floor the walls were painted with vivid wall paintings and the names of those whom donated towards the building were painted on the wall, together with the amount of their donation.

After our short stop we continued onward to the village of Kampong Phluk. But before we get there we have to leave our car and continue by boat. Our captain is about fourteen years old I guess but he has absolutely no problem navigating the rather long vessel through the narrow river. We quickly reach the village which is built upon stilts as during the rainy season the water rises below the houses making it a village in the water.

The sight of the daily life of the fishermen and women is twofold. In a way it looks romantic and nostalgic, but it also painfully shows the poverty of the people here. Life is simple here, you fish, cook, eat and sleep. The houses are built from materials of the forest, bamboo, wood and rope. They are very basic but some of them are nicely decorated with plants and even colored paint. These must be the richer people of the village.

One structure stands out as we reach the village center, and this is of course the temple. Concrete, crisp paint and in mint condition, from the structure rises a high telecommunications mast with the signs of the 21st century attached to them, 3G antennas, long range radio transmission dishes and more such.

We stop at the harbor where we are welcomed by a man that mans the welcoming cafe at the dock. He asks us to sign the guest book and of course to buy a drink. We sit down for a bit and browse around the cafe. It is funny to see the thick oxford English dictionary and other study books on the shelves. The village people make every effort to learn and understand English to communicate with the tourists that come and visit their town and fund their village.

We continue our journey on a smaller boat, not much bigger than a canoe. Our captain is now a young girl, and she sits on the front of the boat using a stick to peddle us around. First we go a bit along the river, towards the floating forest. The little boat rocks dangerously on the waves from the bigger fishing boats and other tourist boats that pass us. But after on the main river we divert into the forest. During the wet season you can go deep into the floating forest as most of it is submerged in the water. But today it is dry season, and we cannot get too far before we get stuck on the bottom.

With a bit of wiggling we free the boat and head back to the river side. Here our bigger boat is waiting for us to take us further down the river. We thank our captain for the little trip and climb aboard the big boat. We are now outside of the village and close to the lake Tonle Sap. This is the largest lake in the Asian peninsula and one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world. The water comes from the Mee Kong river as it makes its way down to the Cambodian shore. It is a very shallow lake at most fifteen meters deep in the middle but, but the most of the lake is no more than two or three meters deep, at least during dry season.

As we head out we notice it is particularly choppy, especially on the narrow and long river boats. The lake is where the men fish every day, and we see a fisherman emptying his traps. We turn around on the lake and head back on to the river. We stop at the cafe again where we leave our boat to have a look in the town. Immediately we are ambushed by a group of friendly school kids that want to sell pens and paper, so that we can give it to the school kids. They speak English very well and do their best to sell their merchandise. It is a difficult situation, at one side you want to help out, but you don't want to stimulate this kind of begging as it gets them nowhere.

I tried to explain to them that we would give the money to the school instead of buying these pens and papers as the school could probably put it to better use. Sim told us that many kids nowadays go out to beg tourists for money or sell them 'made in China' scarfs instead of going to school. It is easy dollars and a lot of tourists buy in to it and give money. He finds it humiliating for the proud Cambodian people. When we run in to these kids at the temples he usually tells them to stop humiliating themselves and to go back to school. But here at the village the situation is slightly different, as these kids actually try to collect money for the school that they attend.

As the water is low, the village has a wide dirt road between the houses. The people have put up a couple of nets to play badminton or volleyball. We found to our surprise that there even is a backpackers guest house located in the middle of the village, tourism is slowly making its ways in to this community.

As we head back to the car the sun is low on the horizon, creating a golden glow over the village. It makes the scenery even more romantic, and it seems that the gold of the sun brushes the poverty away. We shoot another hundred photos or more. It is going to be a hell of a job to sort all these pictures out and select the ones that we want to keep and post. Every corner of the river provides an interesting and beautiful shot.

It is already dark when we reach the town and we feel tired and dusty. We ask the driver to drop us off at the FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club) as we read that this place has a very nice Spa and a lovely restaurant. Exactly what we need, in exactly that order. So we drop in by the Spa for a lovely massage session and after we take a table at the restaurant. The ambiance is indeed very nice, but when our main course arrives it was not that good at all. I ordered the daily special which was a rack of lamb. It turned out that the meat was 'off'. The restaurant replaced the dish with something else without argument, but in the first place they should never have served this. For a place of this stature and allure this was unacceptable, even in a country like Cambodia.

We did not let it ruin our day and the second try of the Chef was better. But when we were almost done with dinner we were literally invaded by some company party. We had a seat on the balcony, and the whole inside of the restaurant was booked for this party. And as we were finishing up our meal, car after car dropped off ladies in cocktail dresses and gentlemen in suits. Around thirty or forty people arrived at the party. A free flow of beer and wine made the already loud crowd even louder and soon we could not even hear ourselves talk anymore.

We decided to take the remains of our wine downstairs to the garden of the restaurant and had a nice dessert there, far away from the noise and drunk laughter of the people upstairs. Later that night we took a tuk tuk back to the hotel where we had a good night of sleep. Tomorrow we don't start too early with our tour as we are aiming to see the sunset at Angkor Wat.
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