Saturday, March 23, 2013

Tonle Sap, the Great Lake of Cambodia

We had lunch in a French Restaurant with delicious food.  I ate so much because they serve so much and I have to try it all.  Then we went to Artisans d'Angkor, a workshop and school set up by the French to help peasants learn a craft to support themselves with.  They show you the workshops and the people in them, then take you to a huge gift shop where you can buy it all.

There are posters in the workrooms that teach dental hygiene!  We were surprised, but they are truly trying to help these people to better their lives.  It seems like quite a worthy cause, although we didn't purchase the expensive items in the gift shop.

We saw many interesting sights as we drove through town to the Tonle Sap.  Along the Siem Reap River, houses were built on stilts and the people live in shocking poverty.

Notice the shrine on the porch.  It's the nicest thing they own.  I don't know if it's only out there because of the New Year holiday or if they keep it there all year around.

Umbrellas keep the sun off while people set up stands along the roadways.

The open air design must allow cooling breezes through.

Notice the man taking a shower in the front.  This looks like a shop, as things are hanging up for display.

Shop here for your household supplies.

We arrived at the Siem Reap River dock, climbed into old, dilapidated tourist boat of questionable seaworthiness, and took off down the river to Tonle Sap, the Great Lake of Cambodia. 
We trusted our lives to one of these!

Notice how they made a trailer for hauling these long poles!  Clever!

Sharing the river with us were several other watercraft, so low in the water I thought they'd be swamped.  The water looked like cocoa, thick with mud.

A fisherman with his nets.

As soon as we took off from the dock, other boats pulled up alongside us to try to sell their goods.  One man put his little girl (about 7 years old) on the boat with a basket of sodas.  Two boys who rode with us on the boat went around and started giving backrubs to everyone (who would let them) and asking for pay.

These are burial tombs.  Hope there isn't a high-water flood!

The river smelled of fish paste and diesel fuel, and it was lined with trash on both banks.  Our guide said nearly 1000 boats per day ply these waters which keep things churned up.  After a long ride, we finally came out into the lake.

I thought I was Kevin Costner in "Waterworld".

I could only wonder how many children had drowned in this lake.  The parents weren't at all worried, though, and the children played as children will anywhere.  The family van was a small boat, and we were soon surrounded by more beggars.  Women pushed their babies up for us to hold, and some children had pythons wrapped around their shoulders to attract our attention.

The guide told us that most of the people living here are actually Vietnamese.

Here you can see into the "living room"--daily family life.

 These cages on the side can hold chickens or pigs, and underneath the houses is a "fish farm" where they trap the fish and keep them.
A floating machine shop

I was NOT going to stand up for this Rose Pose!  The boat was too rickety and I was on its roof!

The boat cruised around "main street" for a while, then took us to a floating tourist trap where we disembarked and looked at the offerings.  I bought a beaded pillowcase with a sequined elephant on it.

Crocodile skin is legal to harvest and there are shops in town selling bags, purses, belts, shoes, etc.  Here they had a little pen for the tourists to see (and people to throw trash in!).

These three little beggar boys (one with a snake) were poling around in these washtubs by the tourist boats.  If no one paid attention to them, they'd have sword fights with their poles.  They just bobbed around, hoping for a handout.  Each had a little plastic cup that they used to bail their tub once in a while.  Apparently, this is their daily routine.

This is my Pulitzer Prize Winner.  Someone call National Geographic.  See the sleeping child hanging in the hammock?  And the baby is nursing while mother poles her canoe.  She came up alongside and begged.  There's a rock in the back of her boat for ballast so she can sit on the very front.  Amazing.  Horrifying. Shocking. Saddening.  Pitying.  Crazy.

We got back on the boat and went upriver, passing the school gymnasium and classrooms.  The village is mobile and changes their location according to the tides of the Mekong River which flows into the Tonle Sap. 
See the outdoor "shower" wrapped around the corner?

Clothing for children--optional.

School Gym

We even passed by a boat full of children--the river school bus!

I thought my boys would get a kick out of our boat driver's T-shirt.

As we disembarked, I saw these two little boys playing on the rope.  They would swing and fall off into the dirt and and giggle and laugh as only children can do.  I hope these children are happy.  Maybe because they don't know anything different, they don't feel sorry for themselves.

Tomorrow:  Angkor Wat

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