Siem Reap - Last Full Day

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Siem Reap - Last Day

8:00am start and we drive to a mooring on the Tonle Sap Lake, an ancient channel way for the Mekong River.

During the Mekong flooding, the water backs up into this lake dropping rich sediments of soil which then form fertile farming when the waters flow back into the Mekong after the annual flooding.

Our group board a small motor boat and start down a narrow water way.

Even at this time of the morning, most of the fishermen have finished fishing and are celebrating their catch with some local beer. However there are still quite a few using small traps, nets and cast nets along the waterway.

This activity presents ideal photo opportunities for our group as we travel the waterway.

We approach Kompong Pluk village in our motor boat and I am amazed at the contrast to the last time I visited this village. This time I see houses on high stilts each with steps leading from the floor of the structure down to a landing 10 or so feet above the ground level and then with a second series of steps leading down to the ground.

I point out to the group that the last time I visited, the ground level between the houses was well below water and in fact I was in a boat floating between the houses at the level of the landing currently 10 feet above the ground.

The cameras are clicking away, trying to capture every moment of this unique scene. The people are quite friendly and most of the time you receive a smile when they realize you are taking their photo.

The early morning light coupled with smoke from a few fires on the banks makes an ideal backdrop.

We pass many a boat tied up to a jetty with either the occupants sorting and selling fish, or mending their nets ready for the next outing. Our boat driver is good and slows every time someone in our group places a camera to their eye. Our eyes are darting everywhere looking for that unique image.

We are lucky, for there are not too many other tourist boats in the area and when we do come across one, our boatman slows to let them pass and get out of camera view.

We draw alongside a jetty and upon alighting from the larger boat we get into wooden dug-out canoes. Each canoe (with no seats) has only room for two sitting close and a paddler as we head off down the water way.

With the canoes subjected to the wash or wake from passing craft, we certainly hear some interesting comment from members of our group.

We move from the main channel and paddle into a submerged forest with beautiful lighting passing through the overhead canopy. With only the sounds of the birds and the odd dip of a paddle into the water we float through this serene area.

During this experience we only once come across another canoe and that being one of the locals setting traps amongst the trunks of the submerged forest trees.

Everyone is now put to the test as we have to transfer back onto our larger boat mid-channel with no jetty. Of course cameras go first and then with a little laughter and certainly some strange positioning of limbs (after sitting on the floor of the dugout for a time), everyone is safely back on board our larger vessel. We then proceed out into Tonle Sap Lake itself and most are amazed at its vastness. The expanse of water seems endless. We turn and head back up the channel to Kompong Pluk where after a walk through the village and a visit to the school to donate some stationery before we settle down to a picnic lunch. Each of us receives our lunch (ham/cheese sandwich, 2 slices banana bread, small salad and mandarin) in individual reed woven baskets.

We once again board our motor boat we travel back along the channel to where we were dropped off by our bus. We head towards Koolen Mountain (Sacred Mountain). We drive through areas, which away from the road are still to be cleared of land mines. We arrive at Beng Mealea Temple, a place I personally like to visit and photograph and a place away from the normal tourist influx.

It is one of the most mysterious temples and gives you the complete lost-temple experience.

It was built by Suryavarman II (1112-1152) to the same floor plan as Angkor Wat.

It is a photographers' delight, being able to wander and discover angles, leading lines, tree root covered facades and the ambiance of the temple itself. But be prepared to clamber over rock and squeeze through narrow places with your camera equipment.

After quite some time here, our group travel back to Siem Reap for our 'Farewell to Siem Reap’ dinner.

We were honoured to have the manager of ‘Travel Cambodia’ join us at dinner and have the privilege of toasting the birth (10:1:2011) of the first child (girl) to my good friend and guide Kim.

During the night I arranged with Kim that the group would donate money to sink a well at one of the villages to enable a family and surrounding families to have access to fresh water.  

I have done this on previous visits and this time I also included a second well, donated by my own family to also be sunk in a nearby village.
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