Early morning wake-up of 5am (not that we managed to go to
sleep at all) so we could have breakfast (not very flash) and get to the hotel
for our 8am flight to Siem Reap. We asked the hotel to arrange a taxi for us,
which was a mistake, as they charged us 600 Baht rather than calling a normal
taxi (~300 Baht).
We hopped off the tiny plane (really small, I couldn’t fit
my knees in my seat) into the single air strip of Siem Reap, surrounded by lush
rice paddies and palm trees. The air was hot and muggy, and the sky completely
overcast. We hired a taxi-driver to take us around for the day (US$20 – a bit
of a mistake – but you learn eventually).
First of all we dropped our stuff at
our hotel – the Freedom Hotel, then we went to the Vietnamese floating village,
about 15km out from Siem Reap. The roads in Siem Reap were good, but as soon as
you left they were terrible pit-holed mud roads, with ramshackle huts on either
side with kids playing by the road. Rice paddies with a vibrant green were
everywhere, along with water buffalo, cows, small dogs (that looked like
dingos) and strange chickens. Nearly everyone was on bikes or motorbikes, and
there were almost no road rules with no-one sticking to their side of the road
(the right side). The floating village was a single strip road that turned into
a causeway, with the huts turning into stilt houses in the water, and later on
barges or covered boats. The closer houses to land were Khmer, with the more
distant boats being Vietnamese. Even the hospital and school were built on
stilts above the water. The water was rather clean with little rubbish (unlike
the floating villages in Kota Kinabalu – probably from increased water flow
rather than increased sanitation?).
We had a boat tour of the village, going
out into the lake proper, which is the largest in Cambodia, and the richest in fish
in the world. It feeds most of Cambodia
aswell. Our taxi driver told us they make some type of dried fish that keeps
for a year which smells terrible but tastes nice (but only to Khmers he
hastened to add), which most people survive on, combined with the rice. We
stopped off at a ‘fish farm’ where they fed catfish with meal to fatten them
up. These are miniature tourist centres, with the family there selling various
items (Jodie bought a skirt) and with some native pets. I held a large water
python and a baby albino gibbon (which peed on me and later tried to bite with
its gummy mouth), and there were also an ocelot and a ferret (in cages) and
pelicans, long-tailed macaques and Malibu
storks (free – except for some of the pelicans).
The Malibu storks were amazing – massive vulture
looking birds a good three feet tall. A little girl who lived on the farm
chatted to us, and told us that she was six and spoke six languages – English,
Khmer, Thai, Japanese, Korean and French. She was amazed that we were 22/23 and
only spoke one language.
We then taxied back to Siem Reap and had lunch at the
Jasmine Angkor, where the vegetable curry was served in a coconut. Afterwards
we walked down to the local market, and to the lotus gardens. The gardens were
surprisingly formal and well trimmed, considering the state of the rest of the
city (probably because they were kept up by the neighbouring large hotels).
There was a small temple, and hundreds of bats in the tall trees. We then took
a Tuk Tuk (small carriage carted by a motorbike) to the old market, which sells
tourist items, and had a look around. It was very difficult, with all the shop
owners asking you to come in and look, and to buy something, always offering
again if you say no. There were also lots of beggars, either adult amputees
(land mines) or small children, usually dirty and carrying babies. They looked
a lot more pitiful and less healthy than the children in the rest of the
village, and spoke no English (except for money please mister), also unlike all
the other children.
For tea we went to the Freedom Hotel’s restaurant, where we
met Claire – our tour guide (from Melbourne) and
the only other person on the tour, Leanne (a lawyer from Toronto).