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Published: April 30th 2015
Ko Pdao- Homestay on the Mekong
Myself, Will and an Italian guy named Flavio decided to venture up the Mekong river to experience a Cambodian homestay. We arrived on Ko Pdao like a scene out of ship wrecked and were greeted by a deserted tourist centre and no sign of anyone who spoke English. After walking some distance up a stoney, dry path we met a nice lady who spoke some broken English. Luckily with the use of our phone and lots of pointing she managed to organise us a homestay.
On the island the families rotate the tourists wanting to use the homestay. This is the fairest way to share the profits as it provides a vital source of income. After getting lost and relying on the very limited translation phrases in the Lonely Plannet guide we eventually found the place we were staying. Prum Sarin, which is also the name of the owner, welcomed us into his home and introduced us to his family.
Prum and the 3 of us squeezed onto the back of his moped for a very cramped and uncomfortable journey to his neighbour who had very kindly offered to cook us lunch
at short notice. Having only been on the island an hour I felt a strong sense of community spirit and support for each other. The Lady served us fresh fish caught from the Mekong whilst sat on the floor with a fan powered by a car battery!
After lunch we joined some local children swimming in the Mekong river to cool off from the sweltering heat. Seeing three white people swimming in the Mekong is an unusual sight so they seemed a bit unsure at first but by the end Will and Flavio were jumping in and chasing the children under the boat. All the women and young girls including myself, can only swim fully dressed as it's frowned upon to reveal too much of your body. The children are allowed lots of freedom and it was nice to see them smiling, laughing, and having fun playing. I think the the island would definitely benefit from having a school to give the children the opportunity to learn to read and write. Currently the circle of poverty seems impossible to crack because there are limited prospects for the children growing up. Instead, each generation is born into a life where
they join the family business and become responsible for looking after their elders and then the cycle begins again.
Watch "Jumping in the Mekong river with Flavio" on YouTube - Jumping in the Mekong river with Flavio:
I dried off in the sun on the bench outside the homestay whilst Will performed some magic tricks on the family which they found very entertaining. Even though they couldn't speak English, magic is a positive way to be able to connect and give something back for them to enjoy. We noticed only a few pages in the guest book had been filled out in the last couple of years, showing how few tourists they've had to stay. This scheme was set up to help give money to the families but doesn't seem to have been made very accessible, which is a shame because I am sure others would come if they knew more about it.
Flavio and I walked over to watch the sunset from the edge of the river. The sky had a pinky, purple glow and the reflection of the sun on the water made it glisten. This tranquil sunset was soon interupted. As we returned
our host family were tying up pigs ready to be dragged to a boat docked at the bank of the river and transported to Sambor. The pigs were being handled with brute force causing them to let out a piercing squealing noise that was distressing to hear. Apart from Tourism the only other form of income is through farming, and trading livestock and crops. Different families have different roles: building houses, growing rice and crops, breeding animals and fishing. They can trade these with each other and in the town to earn money. It was strange to think that this way of living and trading is what England would have been like in the past and how different it is from today's society.
Like the rest of Cambodia, the houses all follow a similar format: a large open plan room suspended high above the floor by stilts, all made from wood. Underneath this they often hang hammocks and have a large wooden bench/table to sit on and relax away from the blazing sun during the day. Outside there are big ceramic water tanks and many species of farm animals either running around or locked away in pens. Each house
has a set of stairs leading to the main living area, with a bamboo floor for ventilation. Inside the space is open and very minimalistic, except for a TV or speaker system. The family we stayed with enjoyed listening to music or watching TV together and would often congregate in the main room. The beds were a simple mattress on the floor with a curtain for privacy and mosquito net. Although there is a bathroom outside, we saw a few people washing directly in the river which is more convenient and saves bringing the water up from the river.
We returned to Prum's neighbour for dinner but opted to walk this time instead of all cramming onto the bike again. During dinner I felt something crawling on me so jumped up to see a centipede crawling on my t-shirt. I panicked and flicked it off before it could bite me. Will then unassumingly ate a live bug that was hiding in his rice, followed by Flávio seeing a massive spider in the toilet! In the morning I noticed something wriggling on Will's shorts which turned out to be a scorpion and had to get Prum to help us get
rid of it. Luckily we didn't get stung or bitten as there are no hospitals on the island, however we were all still pretty creeped out, literally.
On the island they wake up when the sun rises so they can get all their work done before it gets too hot. I got up about 7.00 and Prum was hard at work cutting up wood. Although very few people speak English on the island, in 24 hours I felt like I had experienced an insightful look into their daily lives and routines. Although very basic compared to Western society, the families are one of the closest I have seen and everyone seems happy, upbeat and content.
Once back in Sambor we visited the 100 pillar Pagoda and Turtle sanctuary. The Pagoda is currently being restored on the outside but has some beautiful brightly coloured paintings covering the walls and ceilings inside.
The turtle sanctuary which is on the grounds of the Pagoda is home to the soft-shell turtle. We met the boy who runs the sanctuary and he explained about the work he has been doing and showed us around the tanks. We also got to feed bananas
to some different species of turtle that he keeps and hopes to breed in the future.The main focus of the centre is to breed the soft-shell turtles that have become almost extinct in the Mekong. The project has been very successful over the past few years and released many back into the wild.
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