07 November 2009 – day 22 – Saturday – Siem Reap, Cambodia
Today was another optional tour, and we decided to go. First, the bus took us across the countryside. We stopped a couple of times. The first time was to take photos of the pretty lotus flowers in full bloom. Kathy got some nice shots but I screwed mine up.
The second stop was to take photos of a local traditional food. There were people on the side of the road, and they made a snack by taking sticky rice and stuffing it into pieces of bamboo and cooking it. We took photos, of course, and were on our way. Chantha bought a bunch of them for us to try later.
Next, we drove North to the big lake, Tonle Sap lake. We stopped at a small roadside “local” (as opposed to tourist) fish market. Of course, we took more photos. There are always interesting characters at the market. The difference here is that they were selling goods from a mat on the dirt.
Meat was harder to find, but it was not refrigerated.
Of course, there were also some interesting foods. Like pots filled with what looked like minnows.
Some people eat snails like we do popcorn. Hopefully it's cooked. I hope.
One interesting thing we saw was more Cambodian gasoline stations. Basically, they were just an odds-and-ends assortment of bottles filled with gasoline / petrol for the motorbikes.
Next to the market was a school and some children played nearby. They were very cute.
Sometimes the children would look at us with very serious looks on their faces, but their faces always lit up when I showed them their own photo. Of course, that meant a lot of the photos were not the smiling version of their faces.
Finally, we reached the shores of the lake and boarded a boat.
The boat took us to a village, which was very interesting. Basically, this was an entire village that looked like it had been flooded. The houses were on precarious-looking stilts. Some of them that were built on the shores of the lake had cars. It seemed amazing that they had not collapsed.
We saw life in a real Cambodian village. This wasn't some artificial tourist trap; this was the real deal. We took hundreds of photos.
We were told that in the dry season, the lake dries up and exposes the streets of the village. After the rains, the lake fills up and the streets are flooded again. Of course, if you're going to build a house in such a city, you better make sure your house is on tall enough stilts.
As our boat drove by, all the little children of the village would come running out of their houses, onto their porch, to greet us waving their hands with huge smiles. It was wonderful to see. These people have nothing. Their life is hard. But they're still so much happier than many Americans.
Kathy got a photo of a little girl as she was jumping into the water. The photo makes it look like she is floating in mid-air.
This was a working village in all respects, but it was entirely on top the water.
It even has a main street.
The people of the lake lead normal, everyday lives. But they've adapted to the water. If you want to take your family for a Sunday drive, it's in a boat.
So your farm can have pigs, but they better be on a raft of some kind.
We even saw a full-fledged pig farm. It looked like it was nearly ready to sink.
It makes a fair amount of sense to be a fisherman here, but the sad thing is that the lake is fished out.
These people are basically down to eating whatever few minnows they can catch. I got the feeling that the slightest natural disaster—storm or whatever—could be devastating.
We also saw a vegetable market and a fish market, all floating on the lake: groups of boats tied together near a lone tree that acted as a landmark.
Outside of one house sat a big stork. Someone in the group joked that whomever was living there was having a baby.
There were lots of small children around, but there was nowhere to run and play; they were confined to their houses due to the water. It was very common to see little children driving boats all by themselves. No parent in the United States would trust their four-year-old with a boat alone; here it's just a way of life.
The kids help with everything, out of necessity. It's sink or swim.
For practical reasons, many of the smallest children run around naked. You're not going to be buying Huggies at the convenience store in rural Cambodia, and you don't want to be doing five loads of laundry every day. I had to omit a large number of good photos because I didn't want to be accused of running a child porn website. Here nobody even notices. And even the naked kids have to help.
After the boat tour of the lake village, we drove back to the hotel. On the way, we stopped at a local Buddhist cemetery, next to a small temple, to see what it was like.
As we drove back to Siem Reap, I sat in the front seat of the bus and took photos.
Chantha gave us the sticky rice bamboo treats to try. They were delicious, but then again, I have always loved sticky rice.
After lunch, we visited the Banteay Srei temple, another ruined temple left by the Khmer empire.
It had beautiful, intricate carvings.
Unlike the other temples, it had writings inscribed on certain columns.
It's worth visiting Cambodia just for the temples.
Next, we raced back to see the sunset at another temple. From a distance, the setting sun hitting the temple was extraordinary.
We raced up a huge flight of steep steps
to the top of the temple and took photos. The temple itself was beautiful, especially bathed in the light of the setting sun.
There was a Buddhist monk visiting the temple, at the top. I asked him and he actually posed for a photo. I think it turned out pretty good!
We patiently waited for the sun to go down, then we took our best shots. It was very beautiful.
We left the temple and drove to a nearby reservoir. There was still enough sunlight left to take some beautiful photos over the water. It was just magical. There's no other way to describe it.
Next, we ate dinner at a restaurant near our hotel, and they gave a Cambodian puppet show. It was interesting but they didn't have a good sound system, so we couldn't hear the dialog. Well, the dialog was in the Cambodian language anyway, so we didn't miss much.
I took some back-stage photos during the performance.
They had live music during the performance.
Overloaded vehicles of the day:
The best overloaded vehicle of the day was a motorbike, overloaded with live chickens. They were tied every which way and it was very odd looking.