Ok, actually it’s The Floating Village. Even though we’re a month into the rainy season in Cambodia, things remain really dry. And while the river is a lot lower than usual for this time of year, there are still plenty of “floating” homes along the river that leads to lake Tonle Sap.
Since the only “floating villages” remaining in Thailand exist primarily as tourist attractions, we hoped to see one of these during our time in Cambodia. The place we visited today is Kampong Phluk, a fishing village south of Siem Reap on the banks of a river leading to lake Tonle Sap, The trip was about an hour drive by tuk-tuk, most of which was through scenic farms and rice fields and small villages. Lots of random oddities on the way there. Cambodia is the first place we’ve been that in many areas there aren’t conventional gas pumps for refueling. What you see while traveling are multiple roadside stands with shelves of gasoline-filled bottles. Gasoline is dispensed in a variety of bottles, including soda two liters, but the bottle of choice for gasoline in Cambodia seems to be Johnnie Walker “Red Label” whiskey bottles. I wonder if you can haggle over the price when you’re buying gasoline like that. Cows roam all over the place in some areas here like India, but in general they don’t seem as well fed as in India. There’s something very cute about the cows though, almost all of them pure white with little jingle-bell collars. Motorbikes carry large loads of stuff here and we saw plenty weighted down with stacks of produce and other goods. And then there’s the passenger cars… Before today, my reference for crowding into a car was when Martha and I were two out of the nineteen (19!!!) passengers in a small van in India about the size of a VW bus. I saw a few vehicles today on the way to the floating village that really pushed that further. A small pickup truck drove by us that had people packed in the cab, a couple on the outside and windows of each door, on the roof of the cab, on the large cargo load in the bed, and on the railings around the bed. It was a lot of damn people, kind of a WTF moment over in a flash as they passed us on the highway. As for the visit to the floating village, it was a couple hour tour by boat (naturally), first by motor boat through the village, then by canoe through forests where fishermen set traps, and finally out into lake Tonle Sap itself before returning. Just passing through the village was a glimpse into an entirely different way of life. A way of life that has disappeared in many places, hence the draw to this place I suppose. The houses are all on stilts at least three stories tall, and there are many boats converted to houses that are connected to stilts in the water that allow them to rise with the water level. The colors and structures were really pretty against all the lush green and blue sky. Most of the people in the village didn’t really pay much attention to us as we went through, and it was fascinating to just see daily life there. Lots of Women washing dishes and clothes in the water. Children playing loudly in the river. Men building and repairing boats under the midmorning sun. Fishermen setting and pulling nets. Little kids repairing nets and fishing gear. Just little snapshots of life. It was very interesting, and became more so to me I think on the ride home, as I was mostly focused on pictures during the visit.
In the afternoon we did a cooking class for traditional Khmer dishes at a place here in Siem Reap. The place is called “Le Tigre de Papier” and seems to be the best regarded in the area. Many restaurants offer cooking classes, and it’s a pretty routine item on tourist itineraries in SE Asia. Martha has wanted to do one of these for a while, but wanted something a little more unusual, so she looked into Cambodia rather than Thailand or Vietnam. We know of plenty of Thai restaurants, even fast food ones, in the USA. Vietnamese restaurants are also pretty common in some cities. We only know of one Cambodian restaurant though back home (“The Elephant Walk” in Cambridge). While the Cambridge restaurant is really good, a single meal for two there might cost you as much as room and board in actual Cambodia for the better part of a week. I have to admit, I wasn’t keen on the cooking class idea ahead of time. In the end though, it was really a lot of fun and we ended up with a huge delicious feast after a few hours. The three hour class including the huge meal was $12 a person, not too bad. I went with my favorite Khmer dish, a soup called Amok. It has kind of a curry broth and monk fish. Martha made a spiced beef dish called Lok Lak, a dish that’ll set you back like $30 at “The Elephant Walk.” Other stuff included spring rolls, papaya salad, mango salad, and banana flower salad. Oh yeah, and mango with black and white sticky rice for dessert.
Tomorrow we have our third and final day visiting temples around Siem Reap. It’ll be a bright and early kind of day, and the last temples we’re visiting are a little further out of town. Tomorrow is also our last day in Siem Reap. After that, it’s onward to Phnom Penh.
Oh yeah, just had to get this shirt. “Cambodia: Probably the best temples in the world.” If this were America, we’d leave out the “probably” for sure. Pretty funny. Seriously though, they really do have the best temples in the world.