Siem Reap and Tonle Sap Lake

Trip Start Oct 23, 2011
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Trip End Nov 12, 2011


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Where I stayed

Flag of Cambodia  , Khétt Siĕm Réab,
Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Approximately 18 hours after leaving Sea-Tac we landed in Siem Reap Cambodia. First order of business was to obtain an entry visa, easy enough, get in line, pay a fee and go to the end of a long counter behind which 5 or 6 bored looking officials sit. Our passports are handed off to each one in turn who presumably has a task to perform before handing it to the next official. When it reaches the end of the line our name is called and we proceed through immigration. Outside the terminal drivers are waiting, placards held high with the names of their clients displayed. We locate our driver quickly and in short order we arrive at our hotel, ready for a long night's sleep. I don't even know how long I have been up but Jean watched 6 movies over the course of our flights.

The Viroth Hotel is located on a quiet side street; it is a very pleasant small boutique hotel with only 7 rooms and a Zen feel to it, an oasis.  The staff was very friendly; however there was a slight delay, as they had to obtain a third bed for our room from some remote location before we could collapse into a coma.








 
 





 
 
After a good night's sleep, a hot shower and delightful breakfast in their roof top garden we were ready to explore the sights although still weary from the long flight.  We will definitely pace ourselves today and try to acclimate to the heat and humidity.  Not far from the hotel we cross the river and in front of us looms a large, ornate temple surrounded by beautiful gardens.  Not sure whether it was open to the public I take a couple of photos through the fence and we continue on to the market with colorful displays of all types of house wares, clothing, fabrics, souvenirs, local fruits and vegetables and presentations of fish, chickens, meat, organs and unidentified animals or animal parts that were not so appetizing. 
  


 



 
 





















As we walked through the narrow aisles calls of "madam you want to buy?" came from each stall we passed.  The merchants were not aggressive but eager to sell and we did each purchase woven table runners.  

Oddities of interest were large fish tanks with flat boards around the top for sitting upon.  Here's the deal, you hoist yourself up onto the board, put your feet in the fish tank and the little fish nibble all the dead skin off your feet.  How did it feel?  I don't know, didn't try it.





 
Back on the other side of the river was another market with very few stalls open.  We learned this was the night market area and indeed we had seen it lit up the previous night when we passed on the way to our hotel.  The stalls that were open appeared to have a little higher quality merchandise so we will make a trip back in the evening to see what they have to offer.

I was drawn into a photo gallery and talked to the shopkeeper who told us that the temple we had passed was indeed open to the public. Legend holds it that the Preah Prohm Rath Monastery was established around 1500 when a famous monk landed ashore on a piece of his sinking boat. The boat wood was carved into the oddly foreshortened reclining Buddha installed in a swimming pool like pit behind the seated Buddha in the main hall. The lotus themed architecture seems to emulate temples from over the border.  A pair of small weatherworn cannons on either side of the hall is of unknown origin but their European style, crown-like embossed seal and mysterious numbers suggest an imperialist story.  The grounds are quite beautiful; it is a peaceful oasis from the busy hustle bustle on the streets.

 

 














 

 

Siem Reap streets are filled with motorbikes and tuk tuks, chaos reigns and crossing the street becomes quite a challenge.  A walkway along the river was in disarray from the previous week’s floods with pavers raised and displaced making the surface hazardous and the street being the only alternative for walking and not much safer but we made it back to the hotel uneventfully and decided on lunch at Viroth’s Restaurant located a few blocks away.  Ra, our driver from yesterday, was dropping some folks off at the hotel and when he saw us said hello.  We told him our tentative plans and inquired if he might be available for day tours.  He was so we hired him to take us out to Tonle Sap Lake in the afternoon.  He was available and we arranged to meet him after lunch at the hotel.


 




Viroth’s Restaurant is as beautiful as the hotel.  The food was delicious and we had our first amok fish, a local specialty that Ra had recommended.



 


 

 
As promised, Ra was at the hotel to take us to the lake.  It was a pleasant enough drive, not too far from town.  However, when we turned off onto the dirt road leading to the boat docks it was flooded; he drove as far as possible and then parked the van.  We walked to where there were some small boats waiting to take us through the flooded area to the lakeshore where a larger boat would take us out on the lake.  Many homes along the way were partially submerged.  As we neared the area where the lake boats were docked we were led along a series of planks that had been strung together to form a narrow walkway across the vile looking brown floodwater.  It was a little scary; there were no handholds and not much room for misstep least you end up in the dirty brown water.  It was not very deep but it didn’t look like anything that I would want to fall into so I took my time and walked very carefully until we met a group coming towards us which meant backing up onto a little side path so they could pass.






 
We were the only passengers on the larger boat and began our journey out onto the largest lake in SE Asia, Tonle Sap.

The floating village was farther out in the lake than I had imagined.  Kompong Phluk is Waterside living in the wet season when the lake level swells to within a few inches of the houses intruding into the first floor of many homes.  During the dry season it recedes back into the marshy ground and the homes built on 18’ stilts tower above the ground marsh.

 This is a permanent community dependent wholly on fishing and shrimping.  It is a remarkable community; everything floats including the school, general store, and pharmacy even the petrol station and police station.  An island in the center of the village has a small temple and nearby the village a submerged forest. 

   
 
We stopped at one of the buildings for gasoline and picked up a woman and her two small children who the driver had agreed to take back to the little village lakeside where she would try to get a ride to the city; her youngest daughter was suffering from some type of heart disease so she wanted to get to the children’s hospital.  She had no place to stay in town but we were told that if the child were admitted they would give her a room at the hospital.  She would arrange a ride into town when we got back to the boat dock.   Mary gave the driver some money for her passage.




 


 

The sun began to set and rather than wait for the sunset out in the lake we turned around, thinking about negotiating those planks in the dark was a little scary.  The sunset was lovely and huge storm clouds were building, we could see lightening off in the distance.  There was still a little twilight when we arrived back at the boards and I did really well until a dog came towards me and would not go around and would not go back . . . a standoff.  All I could remember were the warnings to stay away from dogs because so many of them were rabid, a little paranoia creeping in here.  I held my ground for 2 or 3 minutes until the dog finally turned around and I was able to complete my passage.  The boat ride back to the van across the lake in the dark was really beautiful, the water was very still and trees were silhouetted against the sky with flashes of lightening every now and then.

Tired from the day’s activities we chose a restaurant close to the hotel, The Butterfly Garden, and had a light dinner before heading to bed.
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