|This morning I slept in and after a late breakfast got a tuk tuk with the 2 Norwegian girls I met yesterday, Trine and Catherine, to go to the floating village on Ton Le Sape lake. I read something online about the tour being a tourist trap but I decided it would be nice to spend the day with other people so I tagged along anyway.
We got to the lake and after paying the $2 admission fee for entering the area, we also paid $15 each for the boat ride around the floating village. It was really interesting to see the living conditions of the floating village. We learned that when the water gets low the people have to move the houses to a different area with more water. The whole area is very poor and there are women and children in boats that come up to you begging for money. One young girl was even paddling herself around the water in a little plastic bin begging for money.
The boat ride itself was nice and we each got to take turns driving boat. Instead of a gas peddle there was just a metal wire that you push your foot against to move the boat forward. Pretty high tech.
Our 18 year guide told us we were going to stop at the floating market and we could buy things like water or food or school supplies for the orphans. He told us how the orphanage is home to about 200 children and they don't have clean water and don't have enough supplies. I looked at the girls and quietly told them I heard about this being a tourist trap and past visitors have said to be wary of the “Ton Le Sap floating orphanage.” But we walked into the market and decided to just chip in and purchase a case of water bottles for $5. Instead of thanking us for buying something for the orphans the man working there said “Can't you buy some noodles instead- the kids need food and they really like eating noodles. Or how about a big bag of rice- it was last 3 weeks!” The noodles were $15 and the bag of rice was $50 so there was no way we were about to spend that kind of money, especially after they seemed so ungrateful for a small purchase. If they were really so needy they would have appreciated any contribution regardless of its size. Our guide saw that we were buying a case of water and said “Oh, you should EACH buy one of those.” But we were firm and said “No, we're just going to buy this one case right now.”
Then we took our water and went in the boat next door to the “orphanage.” It was just a large classroom with lines of desks and about 25 kids were sitting in there with uniforms on and at the exact same time they all turned around and said a very rehearsed “Hello!”, all waving to us in unison. It was a very weird experience. It didn't seem like it was a real orphanage or even real classroom for that matter. It seemed like it was just a place to take tourists so that they can take photos of Cambodian children and feel good about buying them some food or water. Catherine asked our tour guide how the kids learn in school if the tourists always come through and interrupt the classroom to which he replied “Don't worry about it.”
We were taken to another dock in the floating village to walk around the little market and when we got back in the boat we had to wait a while for the driver to come back. A little boy with a snake around his neck came over and kept begging for money, even though we repeatedly said no. Then his mom came over in a boat, with her baby in a little hammock on the boat, and continually begged for money until our driver came back onto the boat.
On the way back to the dock, our “guide” slept in the back of the boat while we hung out in the front. At the end of the trip, the guide asked us to give him and the driver a tip because they were poor and they needed money to go to school, but we were so fed up with the whole tourist trap vibe of the place and how we kept getting asked for more and more money and we refused. We also didn't like how he made us feel bad about getting just one case of water and tried to convince us to buy more. Then we get off the boat and the Cambodian men on the deck try and convince us to tip our driver and guide. I replied “We were going to tip them, but then we spend that money on buying water for the orphans.” That quieted them long enough for us to get away.
After we returned to the city area we went out for Mexican food, which was not very good at all. One of the girls had gotten food poisoning a couple weeks earlier so she was still refusing to eat any sort of Asian food.
We then had the tuk tuk driver take us to the orphanage that Catherine's friend had told her about but by the time we got there it was closed. I was actually glad it was closed because I didn't like the idea of us touring around an orphanage, taking pictures of children and treating them like animals in a zoo.
Overall, it was a good day and showed me that it's not going to be so hard to meet people along the way and join in on people's existing plans.