In my last blog entry I mentioned the existence of temple fatigue and the strong possibility of succumbing to it after a short stay in Siem Reap.
Well, with this front of mind, I’m going to summarise our visit to the outlying temples on the second day of tuk-tuk touring by describing the temple at Banteay Srei as being compact, red and beautifully decorated, whilst a hike to Kbal Spean led us to a surreal submarine site carved many centuries ago in the bed of a fast flowing stream.
Our journey there took us across expansive rice paddies, fields being ploughed by oxen and through wooden-hutted villages where the folk were heating cooking pots on top of clay ovens.
Over the course of the day, we scaled a dry riverbed, scrambled over rocks, hiked through a forest and walked past a small waterfall.
That my friends, spares you five hours worth of travel, hill climb and temple inspection. It also allows you to read the rest of this entry without feeling the need to scroll immediately to the bottom.
Our day ended with a detour to the far side of Siem Reap, and a sunset boat ride to see one of the curious floating villages that lay several kilometres offshore of Tonle Sap lake.
Tonle Sap is an enormous body of fresh water that covers a large part of central Cambodia. The lake varies in size depending upon the season and the strength of that year’s monsoon.
The floating villages of Tonle Sap are home to an ethnic Vietnamese population of fishermen and their families.
Whilst the addresses of their homes may be fixed, the locations of their properties are not.
What makes these villages so unusual is that they change position with the seasons and the levels of water in the lake. After extensive flooding they may be located 30 or so kilometres from their position during the dry season.
Of course, this situation is not ideal if this patch happens to be your morning paper round, even less so if you return after a big night out only to find your house wasn’t where you thought you had parked it.
As the seasonal floodwaters retreat, so too will the villagers “up anchor” and sail their houses, schools, places of worship, communal halls (or in the case of the village we visited, a full-size basketball court), into deeper waters where the fishing will likely prove more rewarding.
The floating village was an interesting and unique place to visit, though the level of commercialism and exploitation of tourism left us with a rather distasteful feeling.
A prime example of such behaviour being that we would only be able to visit the village school in lieu of a donation in kind of classroom utensils purchased from one of the designated village shops.
Smelling a substantially sized and particularly odious rat, I ventured onto the floating shop with hesitation.
My fears were to prove well founded when the shopkeeper informed me a school exercise book could only be bought in batches of twenty and even then at a price which would justify accusing a Central London branch of Rymans as engaging in blatant profiteering.
No sale to a cheapskate cynic from the valleys then?
After cruising around the village for a short while, we docked with a floating bar/restaurant (handy location that eh?) and were swamped with beggars, vendors and wannabe snake charmers, all desperate to part us from the contents of our western wallets.
I know I shouldn’t laugh at those less fortunate than myself, but what else was I to do when a bunch of shouting women and kids came furiously paddling towards me in what can only be described as a flotilla of tin washing-up bowls.
Ignoring the pleas and protestations whilst making our way onto the floating bar, we then climbed a ladder to the upper deck, where we supped a couple of beers as the sun went down.
Meanwhile, the majority of visitors to this area would right now be elbowing each other whilst attempting to capture the perfect “Angkor at sunset” photograph, no doubt with most snaps taken from the hill overlooking the complex ending up looking predictably similar in their composition.
I’d like to think that my own “Angkor sunset” shot has an element of originality to it, though I suspect it may not be a candidate for gracing the pages of next years edition of the “not so lonely” planet guidebook.
Anyway, there’s only so much stone you can photograph in three days without becoming weary, and I don’t want to be in danger of suffering from RSI before the main event.
Gentlemen, to bed.
For tomorrow we make for Angkor Wat….