I apologize in advance for my downer of a finale. The next day was an earlier start at the temples, or so we thought. Mr. Chet had other plans. He really, really, really wanted us to go to the Tonle Sap lake and see the floating village. We’d heard about the floating village from some of our other friends who had been, so we knew it would be a tourist trap nightmare. We still went. It’s hard to say no, especially since you’re given a 45 minute tour of the more rural parts of Siem Reap in the process. That drive almost made it worth it for me.
If you had any doubts that Cambodia was poor, a trip like this will cement it for you. Thatch roofs, dirt floors, no running water, shoddy electricity. These are the things you’ll see over and over and over. Yet people seem genuinely happy, which make you question why you’re even feeling sorry for them. Who am I to impress upon them my standard of living? It’s a weird place to be. Anytime you passed someone, they’d greet you with a smile and possibly a wave, especially if they were younger. It wasn’t half-assed, either. This was eyes lighting up, full-toothed smiles. Families of five on mopeds would pass you. Every home or business on these streets had glass bottles of gasoline for sale. Large groups of people would gather in restaurants for dinner and to watch the one TV. Rows of laundry hung to dry. Smells of gasoline mixed with food, sewage, and humidity would cycle through your sense of smell every few yards. The most emaciated cows I’ve ever seen would be left free to graze the sides of the roads. Huts raised up on stilts backed up to rivers and creeks to combat the inevitable flooding that would come with the rainy season.
This went on for miles, the air turning to the scent of freshwater once you’re at the dock. Someone has invested a bunch of money into the ability to take people out on this lake, through the floating village. The buildings are very new. You pass a toll area that was unmanned at the time. It looks like someone is going to start charging a toll soon. When your driver drops you off, you’re ushered into a room to buy tickets. $20/pp gets you on the boat. It was busy, but it wasn’t packed by any means. They shuffled us onto a boat, and let us go out on our own with a guide. They take you through the village on the way out to the main part of the lake, telling you all about their hardships, and how they’re flourishing with the help of the money gained by these tours.
It’s rather uncomfortable through most of this. Emotional blackmail at its finest. It’s pretty incredible to see this culture, but the blatant attempts to get your money are eyeroll inducing at its finest. They point out the school and store in hopes that you’ll spend money on rice or school supplies. If you’re not into that, there is a $15 additional boat tour through the mangroves you can take. Occasionally long boats with little children holding snakes or bins full of sodas will pull up next to your boat. These kids could be in school, but their parents pull them out in hopes for $$. It’s so sad.
In less than 30 minutes you’re in the lake, and the boat just stops. Awkward silence ensues. Your guide pretty much tells you that your options are buying stuff for the village, taking a mangrove tour, or the crocodile farm. The guilt trip is laid on extra thick if you don’t jump at the chance to dump money into a cause that you’re pretty sure isn’t doing anything. It was really depressing. “Are you sure you don’t want to stop by the school?” Yes, I’m sure. I don’t want to interrupt their learning with a couple of tourists. On the way back to the dock I counted an average of $250 worth of tour money going out on each boat. Plenty of money is being spent, but it seems like it’s either going to the new buildings being built for tour purposes or someone’s pockets. Not these kids. Vacations aren’t all sunshine and roses.
Mr. Chet took us on to the temples after this. These were much deeper in the jungle, and way less visited by any tourists. Ta Keo was pretty incredible. It felt like the architecture changed with this one, so it lent a different feel than some of the others. Pre Rup has some of the steepest stairs we climbed. Stairs + heat + humidity sucks in case you were wondering. East Mebon was really neat. Elephant statues everywhere. There was also this one temple where you walked down this really narrow wooden bridge through a shallow lake. I can’t remember the name of it, and Google really isn’t helping me out either. Figures.
We ate a late lunch at the same restaurant from the day prior. We were greeted by the same smiling faces. I ate a chicken noodle dish that was delicious, accompanied by the largest water I could get my hands on. We headed back to the hotel after lunch because were temple’d out. I wasn’t appreciating it anymore. It’s sad, I know. I came all this way to be burned out on temples in two days. The hotel was calling our names. We spend the rest of the evening just lounging around, booking our flight back to Bangkok, eating more Cambodian food, and talking with Mr. Chen and the kid at the bar again. It was unfortunate that it was our last night. Mr. Chen wanted to take us to his family farm the next day to meet his family and see the country side. I really wished we could have gone. That would have been an incredible experience.
The trip back to Bangkok was rather uneventful. We picked a new neighborhood to stay in, which made Bangkok 100x more enjoyable than the first time through. That and we were much more comfortable being there in general. Our hotel was the Hotel Mermaid Bangkok. Totally modern and had one of the most comfortable beds of all time. There was a ton of restaurants and shops in this area, but felt much more livable and less touristy. A lot of high rise apartments were mixed in with the older architecture. A huge park nearby with a lake. Have you ever seen takraw? It’s incredible. It’s like tennis meets volleyball meets soccer. The amount of flips and kicks is so fun to watch. You have to be in shape to play. I don’t even know how you could do it otherwise.
We ate a bunch of random things over the course of a few days: pork noodle soup, Japanese pastries, the most incredible sushi, a roadside omelet, a mediocre Irish breakfast, and huge plate of pad thai. We found a beer bar that had several Oregon beers available. A trip to see the Bangkok Glass soccer team wasn’t going to happen much to our dismay. The stadium was way out of the city, and getting there was a complete pain in the ass. The rain set in towards the end of the trip, too, turning sort of monsoon-y. It was like Thailand was ushering us out. We got caught up in the typhoon in Japan on the way home, turning it into a 36 hour affair. There is nothing worse than getting delayed when all you want to do is go home to your dog.