Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia. Its significant fluctuation in water levels yields a large flood plain and bountiful biosphere. Wikipedia also informs me that the lake is unique because the water flow changes directions twice annually. We decided to make a day trip to a fishing village on the lake’s edge. Residents live on the water because water levels rise more than 9 metres during the wet season!
We hired a car and guide from a tour agency which deposited us at the wharf, twenty or so minutes from down town Siem Reap. The group of us boarded privately boarded a boat and headed down the canal to the floating village. Rain clouds threatened overhead but we were delighted when a smaller boat approached ours and child hopped on board. She promptly produced a cooler of local beer and made an easy sale. As quickly as she appeared she hopped back and disappeared into the boat traffic.
Our first stop was a restaurant-souvenir shop-ecological centre. Before we could step off the bow of our boat we noticed a young girl paddling what appeared to be an oversized, aluminium tub. When she reached our vessel she pulled a long snake from a cloth bag. It took little time for us to grasp her business proposition. Cambodian-snake-photo-op. Angela and Steve indulged the girl, wrapping the reptile around their necks for some treasured trip photos.
We boarded the floating centre and were quickly distracted by the submerged pit that held twenty or so crocodiles. They lazed about lethargically with menacing jaws. Moving toward the cafe we noticed hoards of small longtail boats with more young girls peddling reptiles. After quickly browsing the ecological centre (highlight: Pig Nose Turtle) we boarded the boat and putted a bit further into Tonle Sap.
Nasty whether was threatening so we turned around and headed back to the canal. Our second stop was at a small floating market. Our guide pressured us to purchase foodstuffs and school supplies for our next stop: the ‘Orphanage.’ On principle I refused to partake in what I speculated may be a scam of sorts. Many of the children at the ‘orphanage’ have parents who leave them there while they work on fishing boats during the wet seasons. In my opinion the ‘orphanage’ represents a community child care centre. Additionally, I don’t think that having tour groups filter through a school is very appropriate. It creates an environment of vulnerability. Anyway, the guys picked up some bottled water and noodles and we made our way to the orphanage. We spent some time there where kids climbed all over the boys and the teachers distributed the items. We took some pictures of us looking like amazing volunteers and then left. For the remainder of the ride back I chatted with our guide about his busy life juggling work, university and language lessons.
We were collected by our driver at the wharf and he suggested we stop at a lotus field on the way back to town. After asking him what lotus tasted like he laughed and could only describe it as, “Like nothing!” We pulled over and trekked down to a stunning field of lotus. We caught the attention of the ‘farmer’ and hand signalled that we would like to try some of the fruit.
We plucked the bean-like fruit from the head of the flower and decided it tasted something like a pea. The group of us piled back into the car having enjoyed a low key touristic day.