Thursday 15 September 2011

Life on the Tonle Sap

You don't really need an itinerary in Siem Reap because the enterprising Cambodians will create one for you.

Just after we had sealed the deal with the cab driver, who dropped us off with a big grin on his face, we were immediately 'accosted' by a tuk tuk driver asking if we wanted to catch the sunset at the floating village of Chong Kneas.

"$4 there and $4 back!" he said.

We gave in because his smiley kind of face makes him look earnest and honest. Besides, I really wanted to ride in these cool motorised rickshaws. A group of them hang around the hotel entrance daily. At the end of every night, they detach the carriage and ride only the motorbike home.

The journey to Chong Kneas was quite nerve wrecking as our driver was rushing to get us there before the sunset. We hung on tightly as the tuk tuk roared through a village road filled with potholes and puddles.

It was interesting, though, to see the villagers going about their daily lives. The kids played in the yard while waiting for the parents to return home from work.

We knew we were approaching the jetty when houses on stilts came into view.

We also knew the sun was setting very fast when the driver pulled up at the jetty hurriedly and we were quickly led towards a wooden boat after purchasing tickets (US$15 each).

The boat set off immediately, maybe they were worried we might change our minds? The entire jetty was empty except for the two of us!

I mean look at the seats below. The word "TIP" is clearly written behind each chair. We had already paid $15 each for the ride and we're expected to give more tip.

After traveling for about 10 minutes, the boat developed engine trouble. It was getting dark and I feared getting stranded in the middle of the vast lake. Luckily he got the problem sorted out and we continued moving in the direction of the floating village.

A bumboat came speeding towards us and this little boy leapt on our deck with cold canned drinks. Told you they're enterprising people!

The Tonle Sap lake is really the pulse of Cambodia. The villages and small towns bobbing on the surface of the lake were quite a sight to behold.

Everything floats in these communities, from the schools to churches and shops. The people move about on wooden boats. The girl below was seen paddling around in a big tub outside a floating school.

The sun finally set while we were out in the lake and we returned in darkness towards the jetty.

Mr Tuk Tuk was there waiting at the jetty. Over the next few days, we found out that our drivers are happy to wait for hours without showing any signs of annoyance.

We were famished after a long day of traveling on a plane, taxi, tuk tuk and boat, and I knew CH wanted to try the BBQ cow after seeing the photo in our friend's album (below), so we went in search of a local restaurant.

Initially the sight of an entire cow roasting over the fire was quite repulsive but when the dish arrived in a civilised manner, it didn't look too bad.

In fact, the meat (served in small chunks) was really tasty when eaten with dips and raw vegetable. We wanted to return for dinner one night but we couldn't remember the way to the restaurant.

The two main attractions in Siem Reap are the temples and floating villages. It's hard to ignore the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. Life at the Tonle Sap revolves round the flowing of the great lake and fishing is the thriving industry here.

Our cab driver insisted that we should make a trip to Kompong Phluk one morning. According to him, the long journey through the long and dusty village will be worth it. In fact, we drove by Rolous Village where the Savong School and Orphan Centres are located. Siem Reap is a small place afterall!

He dropped us off at the jetty so we could purchase a ticket that costs $20 each. We had an entire boat to ourselves and wondered why they don't put more people in one boat for more efficiency. The business model here is different I guess. This time we sat on rattan chairs and didn't spot the word 'TIP' painted anywhere on the boat!

Kompong Phluk is an incredible village of bamboo skyscrapers. During the monsoon season, everything goes underwater, even the trees!

Even the pig sty is built on stilts!

It was amusing to see kids, even small toddlers, frolicking without guidance in the water. This girl wore home-made floats!

You will find shops, restaurants, dogs, chickens and even gardens here.

I was told of the possibility to spot a sky burial in the trees as some comunities still embalm dead bodies while awaiting dry wood and dry land for cremation. I only saw some dry wood stored up a tree.

The village is hemmed in by a flooded forest towards the south where the trees are amphibious. The only way to explore the forest is on a wooden canoe.

I forgot how much we paid to get on the canoe which was rowed by a young girl. We traveled through a half submerged jungle and saw only the top of trees. After a while, I began to feel sorry for her. We kept going for more than 30 minutes and her arms must have been so tired. It was only right to give her a tip.

It was good to return to land again after the long boat rides. We went to a nice restaurant nearby for lunch.

CH wanted to try the local fried catfish and beef which was grilled on a special hot plate.

After a delicious lunch, it was only right to take a nap on a hammock.


Open Kitchen Concept said...

Oh.. the holiday sounds great. I don't like the $ everywhere thing about Siam Reap though.. kind of harassing? I dunno.. still in 2 minds if this should be somewhere I should go...

Blur Ting said...

Ya, the $ thing is not nice to deal with but they're used to people telling them off or ignoring them, so according to CH, just don't make eye contact and walk on.

Malar said...

I experience the word "TIP" too while I was there! Anyway it's nice place to visit!
I can imagine how Great holiday it was!