We specifically chose the guest house Peace of Angkor for our stay in Siem Reap because the owner is an avid photographer. He schedules day trips that allow for fantastic photo opportunities. The trip we booked with him took us to an area on Tonle Sap that had seen very little in the way of tourism. The road to the small village we were going to had just been put through recently. Prior to the road opening the village could only be reached by boat.
We walked down the new road that was lined with rickety wooden houses. Some people stared at us with curiosity, others could care less that we were there. Being in a place far removed from tourism allowed us to observe how people lived their everyday lives. The front of the homes sat level with the road, the backsides sat high up on stilts above flooded fields. The fields are navigated with small wooden boats that are maneuvered by long bamboo poles.
Small children were playing on many of the house porches and in the road. They were not sure what to think of us, some of them looked a little frightened. We took a few pictures of them, they thrilled to see their faces on the digital screen.
This Little Piggy Goes To Market
We all know that each piggy goes to market at some point, but we never thought we would actually witness the event. The pig in this Tonle Sap village was being transported on the back of a motorcycle. The pig is alive, it is drugged up by being fed a combination of marijuana and wine. It is then placed laying on its back with its legs sticking up in the air. Apparently this piggy was not doped up enough. It started to kick and squeal with fright as they tried to tie it to the motorcycle. Our guide David said they usually don’t squeal that much, they are usually doped up enough to keep them calm. In the end the pig decided to accept his fate, he laid still as the men secured him for his final trip.
Boat Tour Of Tonle Sap
From here we would load into a flat bottomed wooden boat. It’s typical of what would be used for fishing in the area. Including ourselves and the guest house owner David, there were 7 of us on the trip. Two young local men hired by David would take us out on the boat. It was a little tricky to get into it. We had to climb down a steep ladder from a high wooden pier. We had to enter the boat carefully so that we didn’t flip it.
We traveled for one and a half hours along the lake. Tonle Sap is the largest fresh water lake in Southeast Asia. During the time of our visit it was over 40km’s wide. In the wettest part of the season it takes up nearly one third of the country of Cambodia.
Our trip on Tonle Sap turned out to be one of the major highlights of our traveling so far. The way people are able to live here and adapt to the constantly changing conditions is remarkable. Life for the people living around Tonle Sap changes dramatically depending on whether the land is dry or flooded below their homes.
During different seasons the water level can range from totally dry to over ten meters in depth. Houses need to be built on stilts with a height to accommodate the highest level that the water reaches in that specific area.
Some villages are permanent and others consist of temporary dwellings. As the water levels rise and fall the houses are taken down and rebuilt in a new location. Once the temporary homes are gone there is no trace that any life ever existed in that area.
The people in this area spend their whole life living in the lake waters and everything centers around fishing, the main staple of life. We drifted past entire self sufficient communities on the water, they had anchored grocery stores and gas stations. Some of the stilt houses were very elaborate, while you could tell other people were less fortunate. There was activity all around us, fishermen were pulling up nets from the water, woman were washing clothing while children were swimming and playing. We were surprised to see how many homes had dogs. They were like any typical canine guarding their property. As we floated past their floating home they barked at us from the porch.
We ended our boat trip in another village called Kompong Khluang. It had a Buddhist temple where a monk greeted us upon arrival. He was very eager to practice his English. Jack and I chatted with him for a while. He asked us many questions about Canada, and what we thought of Cambodia so far.