Trip Start Nov 18, 2009
21Trip End Nov 27, 2009
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Where I stayed
Hundreds of thousands of people live on the Tonle Sap, either in rowboats or in huts built along its coast. These huts are made primarily from thatch roofs, thatch walls, and thin wooden logs acting as the floor. Many do not even have a door. Hammocks hang in rows side by side and substitute beds. The huts are built on stilts to keep it from the muddy bottom. During raining season, the water may rise above the level of the stilt and otherwise flood these huts if they weren't made of wood: the hut transforms into a floating raft above the waterline when high tide season comes around
The level of poverty on my first day there was indescribably... you had to be there. The local tour guide explained that the families live off the fish they catch, and therefore have it better than the land-bound people who have to find food elsewhere. The muddy water is their tub and toilet, and that they dip their cups into the water when thirsty. If there was dirt floating, they'd simply brush it away. The water isn't really dirty, Small Chen explained. The only real pollution in the water comes from the motor oil leaking from the power boats. The feces that we find disgusting actually act as fertilizer for the plants, producing the sweetest mangos and greenest trees. These trees are under water half the time (the trunks are only exposed during dry season) and are extremely well fertilized.
We took a ride on an old wooden power boat that provided a close up view of the quality of life on the Tonle Sap. On my boat were two little deckhands that helped us clear the dock. They looked to be no more than eight or ten at most, yet both wore hard expressions on their little faces and did their jobs quietly and efficiently. When he (one that I was particularly fond of) smiled, he looked like the little boy he deserved to be, so I was truly blown away when we were told that they were in fact thirteen and fourteen
Probably, but probably not.