Floating Village and Forest: My National Geographic Moment

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Asia » Cambodia » North » Siem Reap
November 15th 2009
Published: November 15th 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY

Up at 7:15, showered, ate breakfast and jumped back on Dy’s motorbike. We drove about 35 minutes out of Siem Reap and into the countryside. Saw some interesting things: a woman breastfeeding while riding on the back of a motorbike, a man relaxing in a hammock hanging from a truck while his two friends attempted to repair it, and a child (two years old?) using a small machete to chop at a tree.

As butt-painful as it is to sit on the back of a motorbike for an extended period of time, I wouldn’t trade it for any other transportation here. You lose a lot of the culture from the back of an air-conditioned taxi or the luxury of a four-star hotel room. You have to do things the way the people do to bring more authenticity to your travels.

Dy stopped to buy some On-Som-Ang which is rice-covered banana wrapped in banana leaves and roasted over coals. A little bland, but filling and healthy.

Bought a $20 ticket for the boat ride to the floating village (Kanmpong Phluk) on Tonle Sap lake and paid an extra $5 to transfer to a small boat that can navigate the floating forest. The ride out was pretty incredible; there were fisherman near the shore but as we drove out further it was just miles of water and plants. I saw a water snake (some are poison and the others are eaten) and Dy told me there used to be monkeys but they were over-hunted.

When we finally came upon the floating village I was blown away. It was my first true National Geographic moment. There are 602 families living and working in an isolated village on water. This means no electricity, no cars, no internet, no sports… all the things a spoiled Westerner like me takes for granted. The people support themselves with fishing, they have their own pigs and chickens underneath the houses and they sell goods back and forth between each other. I saw four and five-year-olds boating by themselves, elderly climbing the steep steps of the houses, and even a few cats. The water here is about 4 feet deep, and during the months of April and May the water dries up, allowing people to walk. But the summer rains bring the lake level back up and villagers once again use boats to get around.

The Cambodian people are truly charming; the children like to smile and say “Hello!” and the young adults just grin. I asked Dy if they mind that outsiders come here and take pictures and ride in loud boats through their quiet village. He said no, they appreciate the money that tourists bring.

I transferred onto a small flat boat paddled by a young girl who just moments before was breastfeeding her 3-month-old boy. She took Dy and I into the floating forest; it’s like walking through the woods, but instead you’re on a boat and there’s lots of water. The girl talked with Dy quite a bit but I couldn’t understand much and Dy only told me a little (his English is somewhat limited too). She talked about her life; she is 20 years old, her husband drove the that brought us out, she gets $3 of the $5 I paid for the boat ride and she has to pay $1 to borrow the boat. So she sees $2. At the end of the ride she asked for an additional dollar. I gave her $5.

Dy and I lunched at a tiny restaurant and I had the pleasure of watching them make our food in the back of the restaurant/house (They live there). Dy told me the houses with wooden siding are owned by the rich people of the village while the poor live in straw-thatched homes. People sleep on the floor or a thin mat. The bathroom is a raised platform with a hole and when you are finished you pour water down the drain. I’m going out on a limb in saying the waste goes into the lake where the people swim, drink and catch their fish. Not a nice thought.

I was sad to leave the floating village and forest but we had more to do. We rode to two more temples, although I didn’t stay long at either because I was so hot and uncomfortable and felt a headache coming on. At one temple a man insisted I take three sticks of burning incense, then pointing to a can filled with sand and incense stubs. I placed the incense in the can and the women next to him said, "Now you good luck." I smiled, touched that these people wished so much for my health and good fortune. Just as I turned to walk away she said, "Madame," and pointed at a plate. I needed to "donate" a dollar for my good luck. I'd been duped. But I had to give it to them. I'd no idea it was coming...

Next we went to the Killing Fields, which wasn’t what I expected. It was just a small structure that put the bones of those killed on display. When we left I asked Dy where the actual work camps are, but he didn’t seem to understand what I was saying. Finally, I figured out the camps were all around that area and it seems there is no distinctive preserved place, which I doubt. (Isn’t there a movie about the Killing Fields?) He showed me a Buddhist Temple then took me to an orphanage and school for the blind and I listened to them play music while I walked through an informational building.

Dy dropped me off at 3pm and we agreed he would pick me up at 4:30. I took a nap and over slept by a few minutes, but he was patiently waiting for downstairs. He dropped me off at a mountain (with about 300 other people) and I hiked to the top where a temple was. There were hundreds of other people climbing up and sitting on the temple walls. From the top I could look down on hundreds of miles of Cambodia as the sun sank over the horizon. My camera battery died (already!!) but I will have those images sketched in my brain forever. It was surreal. Sitting there, listening to a dozen conversations in every language but English, warm breeze attempting to dry my sweaty t-shirt, and pondering the meaning of life. No, just kidding. But it was a beautiful few moments.

I ate some fried noodles and vegetables at an outdoor stand for $1 and bought postcards I didn’t want from some boys who wouldn’t leave me alone. It’s so hard to say no! Especially when our conversation goes like this:

“Where you from, lady?”
“New York.”
“Ah! American capital is Washington. Population 300 million. You President Barack Obama.”
“Wow, very good.”
“You buy my postcards. Ten for $2.”
“No, thank you. I already have some.”
“You buy more. You buy my postcards.”
“Well, $2 is very expensive.”
“No. I give you 20 for $3. Here, you see. Very nice. You buy my postcards.”

So I bought his postcards.

Tomorrow, off to Ho Chi Minh City!

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16th November 2009

hey guys!photose and stories are awwwsom!!i like the whole web site realy!your doing a good job of it.some are sad compard to what we have,they do not.difrent culturs and all.wish i could be there to exsperenc it in real life whith you.keep it up and thank you for sharing the exsperiance with us.
16th November 2009

Great pix
Just looking at them all again. You captured some great expressions and people living their everyday lives. Brings it all to life - more so because you are there.
17th November 2009

awsome photo's
Hey Y'll! Loved the photo's, I appreciate what your doing, you are very talented, makes me proud to have you in the family. Can't wait to see you guy's and we can hear all about your adventures. Thanks for sharing. Love Y'll

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