09.10.11 - Siem Reap, Day 1 - Floating Village of Kompong Phhluk
This morning I was leaving Vientiane, for Siem Reap by plane. Again by Laos Airlines, so no doubt another propeller plane, (I wonder if this'll have engines???!!! LOL)
So another early rise for my 6.30am flight and there I was in the departure lounge waiting with anticipation for the next step of my journey away. Getting to see Angkor Wat and it's surrounding temples! A dream of mine since I was young that was about to come true. Excited, apprehensive but mainly bursting at the seems to get there, I sat there waiting whilst watching the sun rise over Wattway Intnl Airport, way in the background behind the aircraft which was about to take me to my dream. A perfect start to what I had hoped would be a perfect few days coming in Cambodia.
On board the plane I was sat next to a much older Dutch guy. He seemed to be travelling in a group and talking away with them so didn't bother myself with trying to make conversation at such an unearthly hour. Turns out however that his English was brilliant and we started to talk about one another's adventures so far. He turned out to be an eye surgeon who works for a Dutch charity bringing knowledge and understanding to fellew eye surgeons in Laos. Health care as you can imagine is pretty poor, many of which cannot fund themselves, nor can the local people afford to pay for health care. This charity helps in all three of those departments, not only treating patients but training the eye surgeons in the country - which as you can imagine, isn't many.
The flight was indirect and we stopped at Pakse airport where my new, and once again very interesting flying companion was departing the plane to spend the next week of his life doing something for the greater good and to help people. Not only was I impressed that this man has been coming to Laos to do this very same thing every year, but he's been doing it for 20 years. What a truly remarkable person. :-)
So the next leg of the journey I was sat alone and was able to catch forty winks whilst we flew from Pakse to Siem Reap. The airports, although they call them international airports, are so tiny that within 30 mins you have landed, got off the plane, completed and collected a visa application, completed an immigration form (this time $20), through passport controls and luggage in hand! If only Gatwick or Heathrow could offer a service like that, eh?!
Yet again I hadn't pre-arranged digs in Cambodia so whilst on the flight I picked my favourite sounding one from the Lonely Planet guide and headed for the taxi rank to get my lift into town. As I approached the taxi stand, a blond lady, obviously from my flight, approached me and asked would i like to share a taxi into town with her. Naturally I accepted and off we trotted.
It seems at the majority of the corners I turn during this journey, signs from home continue to park themselves in front of me, for this ladies name was Marie :-) Easy I thought, I won't forget that name in a hurry.... best not start calling her Ree Ree though, eh?! :-)
The one massive difference however is this Marie was French Canadian from Quebec in Canada. She was also fluent in English - horrah! We discussed together which hostel we should stay in and actually headed to neither of the ones we had chosen originally but the one the taxi driver recommended (which was detailed in the Lonely Planet I might add). Obviously taking recommendation from a taxi driver wouldn't be something which i'd normally do but the reason we did on this occasion was because, like Thailand at the moment, Siem Reap and many of the 23 provinces of Cambodia are suffering dreadful flooding at the moment. The driver informed us that much of the centre of town is flooded and people are unable to get to there guesthouses. He certainly wasn't wrong. I've never seen anything like it - it was like a scene i've only ever seen on the news. I'd say the water at it's highest point was calf level in the streets. Wow!!! What a sight!! So off we headed for Garden Village Hostel which was on the surrounding areas of the flooding. Marie upon first meeting seemed absolutely lovely. We each discussed what we were here for and how long including our plans. Turns out we had the exact same thing in mind. Four days in town and the three day temple pass to take in ALL of the temples. As we were on the same wavelength and immediately got on, we also decided to become roomies and share a twin room at the hostel. My first buddy to share a room with, and she was lovely :-)
There are many ways you can see the temples in Siem Reap, but i'd already decided to take a Tuk tuk around in order to see as many as I possibly could in the time that I had here. in all three of the Asian countries I have visited so far on this trip, one thing you learn is you're never short of a tuk tuk driver, they're everywhere - and in Cambodia's case, the Guesthouses employ the drivers to take there guests around. it was then that we met Li.... although he asked that we call him Lion. Upon arriving and checking in, we discussd what we'd like to do here and negotiated a price with him for the entire 4 days. Once we were all happy with the price, we dropped our bags into our room which was spacious, clean and had HOT running water, we then decided there was no time like the present and headed out to met Lion for day one of our adventure in Siem Reap. The time at this point was still early, maybe around 10am and there i was thinking we'd straight for Angkor Wat. Turns out that when people visit the temples, the hour you start sightseeing is SUPER early, for sunrise you leave at 4.30am and any normal day people are out and about at 8am. In Cambodian classification it was late in the day, and therefore Lion suggested that we just pay him $6 for half a days journey in Siem Reap. He suggested that we visit a very famous floating village this afternoon before kick starting the first of our three day ticket to the temples tomorrow.
The floating village was called Kompong Phhluk, which means Island of Tusks, and was about 25km out of town. When they call it a floating village, that exactly what they mean. I coudn't believe it really. Wooden huts built on stilts lie within the waterways, literately in the middle of no-where. We paid $1 for the small boat across the waterway to get from the mainland to where we collected the bigger boat which would be taking us to the village. To merely get into the small boat was an adventure in itself. Walking along planks across the water past locals houses, restaurants and small shops. There also seemed to be cattle everywhere, except particularly malnurished so I certainly wouldn't have been ordering a steak if we were to eat there later, lol! Walking across the planks of wood, I felt like Baby and Johnny Castle from dirty dancing as they danced along the tree trunks - except as you can imagine I was slightly less graceful, lets say :-)
We arrived at the main boat to take us to the village which took about 45 mins in total. It was a great journey. Powering through a huge expanse of water, with only a small amount of greenery rising out of the water. In the distance was nothing but water in three directions and a tall mountain in the forth. With the wind blowing through my gills and the sun shining down on us with the feeling of pure relaxtion, I was taken back to May 2008 thinking about the time we took Gabriel through the Everglades in Florida. It really reminded me of that, except minus the crocs (I think) lol! As we arrived into the village nothing changed. The closer we got and finally coasting through the narrow waterways of these peoples homes they continued with there ordinary lives. Some were just relaxing in hammocks, others were making silk scarves, whilst others generally looked out over their ever happy children, dipping and diving in and out of the water, having fun, laughing and mainly waving at us tourists as we ventured into their home town. Due to so much rainfall this season, it was sad to see that many of the ground floor areas of these peoples huts were completely flooded. Except no-one seemed to really care. After a while of cruising through, I also felt slightly bad, like I was invading there privacy into there home lives. But I guess upon reflection small communities like this thrive on us as tourists paying our $16 in total to visit them.
Following our visit to the floating village, we headed for a Government run organisation which accepts both men and woman from far out provinces to teach them skills of crafts, stone masonary, and painting to name a couple. It is a three month scheme whereby these people can learn a trade and then return to their villages and possibly make a living from it. The poeple at this organisation however are those which are mentally and physically disturbed, with unfortuante up bringings, some with which who have the loss of limbs. These people whilst at the organisation take a vow of silence and communicatee to another via sign language, only. As you can imagine it was a slightly unusual place but most intriguing. The abilities of these people were incredible - and i mean all of it. The art work, the sculptures, the silks - it was all incredible!
After the visit here, Lion took us back into town since they day was now over. We arranged with him to be collected at 4.30am in order to see sunrise at the temples the following day and then headed for somewhere to grab dinner. This was where Marie and I got to know a lot more about one another which was lovely. My first impressions were correct at the airport and in the back of the taxi, she really was a lovely person.
After dinner we headed for the night market, since the street close by to us named 'Pub Street' was completely flooded and you couldn't get down there, boo! The nightmarket was a market which at every turn we were being asked 'Layyyydeee, you want to buy something?, Layyydeee, you want bag, dress, shoes, glasses, bracelet' - my god, after about 40 minutes I'll give them Layyydeeee!!! Still all the same it was a great experience and a completely different one to the night market I visited in Luang Prabang, Laos :-)