Sunday, January 28, 2007

Majestic Angkor Day 3 - Siem Reap and Down the River to Kampong Phloc

Got up around 6 or so this morning so we could start getting ready. We'd made arrangements with Thy to come by around 8 to take us sightseeing. We didn't really have much more of a plan than that, figuring that we'd make it up as we went along.

Around 8, Thy showed up with 2 of his friends who would be carrying Melody and Lori. We ate a quick bite, and then decided that, rather than go see more temples, we'd take in something different. The Lonely Planet guide suggested the flooded forest of Kampong Phloc as a nice diversion if one was "templed out" and Thy agreed that it was worth checking out. We did have a hard return time of about 3 PM so Lori could go to one of the local clinics to see if they needed blood.

So, bellies full and a flexible plan, we negotiated a price, hopped on the back of the bikes with our guides, and headed off.

Merging into the mid morning traffic, we moved along the dusty track at a decent pace. Traffic was pretty heavy, so it took us a few minutes to get outside of town, passing by the King's summer house along the way. It wasn't anything too flashy...just a little place near the center of town. One would think that there would be a big fence around it, at least, but it was directly adjacent to the street.

Eventually, we passed through the business district (daily needs...gasoline stands, household wares, other stuff...definitely not the touristy side of things, though) and into the countryside. We rode for about 15 minutes or so before turning down a dirt road leading to the Tonle Sap Lake. The three of us were busy taking in the scenery, taking short movies with the cameras, taking pictures of each other, and trying not to get bounced off the back of the bikes as we went around and over the rutted path. Along the way, we passed some more temples, but not having them on the schedule, we passed them up.

Finally, we drove through a small village, and on the other side arrived at a boat launch. Here, we paid another guy about $20 per person for the ride out to the flooded forest and the village that (sometimes) is on the edge of the lake.

We got on, and got seats toward the front of the boat. At the same time, a young mother and her son got on with some sacks of supplies, and sat on the bow of the boat. After a few minutes of shuffling around, and loading some more things going to the village, we cast off, and did a seven point turn to get around in the narrow channel.

As we puttered downstream, we passed people going about their lives. Fishermen and nets, cows, random folks doing random things. Within minutes, though, we had passed into what appeared to be an extension of the lake. This was the flooded forest of Kampong Phloc. Along the way, we passed a street sign in the middle of the water, evidence that in dryer times, this was a channel paralleling the road. Now, however, it was totally submerged.

After about 20 minutes of floating through the forest, we came upon the small village. As we entered, there was a small canoe-type boat being paddled by about 5 kids, racing our outboard motor powered boat. They were laughing it up, and having a great time. At one of the first homes, we stopped and let the lady and her son off. She'd held onto him the whole time, even feeding him a little bit of lunch along the way, rice it looked like, and making sure that he didn't take a dive off the side.

After dropping off the passengers, we rode around the village for a while, taking pictures. It was incredible, seeing the way people lived here. The entire village was up on stilts, elevated above the water. Even the pig pens and chicken coops were raised. All around, people were doing their daily business, kids and adults bathing in the water below their houses, people poling or paddling boats filled with stuff going door to door selling their goods...absolutely fascinating.

After a while, we stopped at a Buddhist monastery and spent a few minutes speaking with the monks there. They were very welcoming, and allowed me to even go up on the roof to take a few photos from the elevated position above the town. After a while, though, we took our leave, and headed on. We stopped for a few minutes for a coke at a small cafe, and Thy told us of some monkeys that lived out closer to the lake. So, leaving him and his buddies to grab some lunch, we went on the monkey hunt.
The boat driver drove us out of town, and through a taller portion of the forest (trees were "tree height" even in spite of the level of the water) and we eventually came to the lake itself. After a quick check of his traps, and the trophy catch of one tiny shrimp, we drove out into the lake about a kilometer or so. At this point, the driver decided that he needed to do some maintenance on the propeller. He spent about ten minutes tinkering with it, perched on the extended boom until it got going again. For a brief moment, we looked at each other and wondered if he'd taken us out to extort money from us or hold us at gunpoint or make us walk the plank...but, nothing dramatic happened. After he fixed the prop, he cranked up the engine, and we moved on back to the trees to look for the monkeys.

We slowly motored through the forest, we kept an ear and an eye out for anything monkeylike. The only thing we saw, though were fish traps, and a boat parked for a picnic. No monkeys. But, as a consolation, the driver stopped at an elevated hutch, and told us to climb up for a look. Instead of monkeys, it was a pen full of crocodiles. We climbed around on top, taking pictures as if we were going to fall into the pen, and Thy and the others rode up in a small boat driven by one of the girls from the place they ate lunch. We all climbed back in the boat, and headed back.

The trip up the river to the starting point was uneventful, except for one time when we encountered a boat full of people coming the other way, with little room to spare as we passed. Still, no problems (unlike the guy we passed who was steadily bailing as he went), and before long, we were back at the launch.

We hopped back on the bikes, and drove back into town. Once there, we talked Thy into coming back for a sunset at Phnom Kramh temple on the hill above Tonle Sap lake/town. Lori headed off with Sarah, and Melody and I went downtown to do some shopping. I ran into one of the street urchins hanging around as Melody shopped, and bought her and her sister a coke as a consolation for not buying any of her postcards.

We stopped by the Blue Pumpkin for a cold drink and a light lunch before heading back to the Guesthouse to link up with Thy. Unfortunately, we misread the sunset time, and by the time we got to the hill, the sun was already below the horizon. We went up it anyhow, though, meeting a young man who attached himself to us as a guide. We got up to the top well after sunset, and with barely enough light to take any pictures of the ruins at the top. After a few semi-successful attempts, we headed back down. It was fully dark by the time we got back with Thy and his friends, and we rode back into downtown Siem Reap where Thy and company dropped us off at the Blue Pumpkin. Some of the same kids from earlier that day were still hanging around, and Lori bought them all ice cream. When they saw us, the little girl for whom I'd bought the coke earlier said, "You again!" It was kind of cute...

After the ice cream break, we joined the rest of the group at the Khmer Kitchen restaurant. Once we finished, we went back to the Blue Pumpkin yet again for a coffee (we really liked that place), and then took tuk-tuks back to the guesthouse.

No comments: