Our last day of touring saw us getting up around 6:00 with my stomach much better. To be cautious I only had tea and some breads for breakfast. Alice joined us and fed one of the restaurant cats, then we met the guide and headed off.
We drove way off into the country down a long dirt road and stopped and met our water buffalos and ox carts. Alice and I on one cart and Kitty and Phroney on the other. We ambled along for about 30 minutes through some rice fields and passed several large duck farms – one clearly for duck eggs the others probably for something else. Then we hopped off and got back in the van. Interesting to ride in an ox cart. Kitty got stuck by one of the animals as she tried to scratch its head. Nothing serious.
Back in the van we went down a very long, dusty, and rutted red dirt road. In the rainy season this area is all under water but now all that was there was a ditch with occasional puddles, sometimes punctuated by water buffalo. We finally got to the launch area and there were many boats but not very much water. A shallow stream about ten feet wide and probably not more than a foot deep – but really quite a bit deeper because the propellers stirred up the bottom so it was actually somewhere between mud and water. The consistency of melted chocolate, but not so dark.
In any event we got in the boat and the driver pushed us off – leaving his flip flops behind in the mud. We sailed along well behind another long tail boat (propeller shaft about ten feet long) but had to stop so the driver could remove the plastic bags wrapped around the propeller. After a bit we came on another boat that had too many folks in it and it had stuck – so we pushed past it. People in the boat were not happy!
We eventually came to real water and passed by one village of about 20 floating homes. They were constructed on bundles of bamboo or old barrels and most had a tin roof and woven or tin sides. All had a boat attached. As we went further toward Tonle Sap Lake we came on the main village area – 50 to 60 houses plus some cruise ships for the wet season (and some kayaks). There was also a well constructed school with lots of boats tied up to it.
The villagers were all going about their daily routine – which included ignoring tourists. We saw lots of folks paddling or poling their boats along, lots of fish traps and people (women) repairing fish nets. Also folks doing laundry, pigs in cages over the water, and lots of ducks with clipped wings. We stopped in at a “Crocodile farm” with five sad looking crocodiles and a souvenir stand. I bought a painting by a local artist (but found out later that the “local artist” did thousands of these things as they were all over downtown Siem Reap).
The lake itself was still an hour or more away, so we turned back. Where we were at the water would be about ten feet deeper during the fall rainy season. The trip back was fairly uneventful except that we passed the school just as it was letting out and all the kids (sixth grade or less) were paddling or poling or running their boats back home. We also had to stop two or three more times to clean the propeller.
Then to lunch in downtown – quite nice with a good breeze and excellent food. We were a bit embarrassed as the guide tried to explain what we would and wouldn’t eat to the servers. Alice was feeling poorly so we went back to the hotel for an hours rest.
At 2:00 we were to meet the guide, but Alice wasn’t feeling well so she stayed at the hotel. We went off to the “School of Art” training where girls and boys were taught the art of classical dance Cambodian dancing. During the reign of Pol Pot all but ten of the professional dancers in the country were killed. Those ten came back and started teaching others the dance – and they continue to do so today.
The class played traditional music then had the girls perform their dance and each particular movement was explained. There are over 4000 individual gestures that had to be learned in the dance. They also have to train to limber their fingers and bodies to make all the moves necessary to do the dance. The lady in charge was kind of flighty, but an interesting demonstration.
Then we headed off to the north to Banteay Srei – a small temple complex from the 9th century. It was a temple to the three Hindu gods – with three towers representing one each. Interesting that all the carvings were done by women. They were really quite elaborate although many were reconstructions as it had been abandoned for many years.
On the way back we stopped at a palm sugar stand (one of many along the road) and were shown how they make the sugar. We also got to try some palm fruit – and our guide inexpertly tried to open one of them – almost cut his fingers off!
On the drive back we passed through a heavily congested area where local peoples were selling and buying lots of different things – even large platters of cooked insects. Quite the traffic jam!
Back at the hotel Alice still wasn’t feeling well so Kitty and I took a tuk tuk to the night market – mostly food and tourist items. Interesting to see the diversity of people. We ate at a small restaurant and visited a couple shops, then took a tuk tuk back to the hotel. Driver got lost but we eventually made it!