On the 3rd and final day of our stay in Siem Reap, we decided that we had enough of temples and ruins. Chet took us to the outskirts of Siem Reap to visit Cambodia's most famous lake - the Tonle Sap.
Tonle Sap is about 15 km from the city. The drive there was very pleasant on reasonably good roads. En-route, we passed by rural Cambodia and for the first, saw how the poorer people lived.
I managed to get this picture of this retailer on wheels. It was a big moving hut, selling all kinds of pots, pans, baskets and I don't know what else. It was powered by a small motor bike. It sped pass our van.
Just before reaching the lake, we stopped by a small village. The village was built along both sides of the main road. The houses in this village were mainly on stilts - at the edge, over the water of the lake Tonle Sap.
Most of the houses here were in very poor condition. Poverty was very evident. I peered into a few of the homes. They had practically nothing - no furnitures, no electricity and I doubt any sanitation and clean water.
Some homes, though small and poor, were actually quite charming.
A small number appeared better well off - like this red building in the distant.
And this neat blue roof home.
Most of the villagers here apparently depend on the lake for their livelihood - mainly fishery and tourism.
More picture of the stilted village...
We were greeted by some children. Here they did not try to sell us anything. Nor did they ask for anything. They just posed for us. Again, Joyce very kindly distributed some candies to them.
Very near to the stilted village was the hatched pier of Tonle Sap.
Because we were a small party of just 4 people, we were assigned a small boat.
It was ably piloted by this young man...
Assisted by an even younger one.
We were all very comfortable. And totally relaxed.
Tonle Sap is the largest lake in South-east Asia. The size of this lake varies with the seasons. In the dry period between November and May, water flow from the lake to the Mekong River. Its size then would be about 3,000 sq km. During the raining season from June to October, the flow of water reverses from the Mekong into the lake. As the result, its size can triple in size to nearly 10,000 sq km.
The lake is an important economic resource for the people of Cambodia. A large population of the country depend on it. The lake provides more than 50% of the fish consumed in the country. Besides fishery, the lake is also an important source for irrigation of rice fields in the surrounding areas.
About 20 minutes into our boat journey, we approached the floating village of Chong Khneas. This village which is entirely floating on water has been the home of the lake people for hundred of years. In the past, the people depended solely on fishery for their livelihood. Today, tourism is apparently a major business.
We passed several private homes. I peeked into them, curious on how they live.
Then we passed some shops and stores.
And some floating mobile pedlars.
They have a school.
I think this was a temple.
A Catholic church.
There was even a cemetery at the outskirts of the village. I was totally baffled how they buried their deads in the middle of the lake.
There was a floating commercial centre that catered for tourists.
Where our boat docked and we got down to look around.
There was a restaurant.
And a vibrant shopping area.
This was an enclosure with lots of live cat fish. Perhaps this was the restaurant's fresh supply.
Next to it was another enclosure. In it were some mean looking crocodiles. Also for the restaurant?
We climbed some stairs to the upper deck viewing gallery.
This was the view of scattered boat houses where the villagers lived.
From the viewing deck, we saw how technology caught up with the people in this remote village in the lake - solar power panels.
I could resist taking this picture of a young boy buying a piece of bread from a floating vendor.
Widespread hardship and poverty was very much in evident.
We bade the village goodbye and headed back to dry land.
From Tonle Sap, Chet brought us to a plush handicraft factory and retailer - the Artisan Angkor.
Lunch was at our hotel's Borei Cafe.
The cafe was a posh and elegant dining place.
A long cold drink was the perfect relief after a hot morning adventure.
An elephant brought us some nice pickle salad to whet out appetite.
Followed by a variety of freshly baked breads.
This was the deluxe Khmer set lunch. It was like the Japanese bento meal - every dish nicely arranged in a large tray.
For starter, there was the poached scallop with mango salad.
The Khmer chicken sour soup.
The main courses were the wok fried beef with Cambodian kampot pepper.
Pan fried marinated pork with pickled vegetables, served with jasmine rice and corn.
And the stewed beef with star anise and cinnamon.
The other Cambodian set lunch was not so elaborate. It was not bento style. It started with a deep fried crispy fish with cucumber salad.
Followed by the entree which was chicken thigh with a curry sauce and stir fried vegetable in oyster sauce, served with steamed rice.
Desserts were this very nicely presented rice flour pancake with shredded coconut and pandan sauce.
And this caramel chestnut with shredded coconut in a crispy wafer over some mango and water melon slices.
In the early evening Chet and our driver came to pick us. They drove us down town to the city. This was where we said good bye to both of them. Chet had been a great guide. Very obliging, ever smiling and was most patient with us.
We wandered around. The ladies finally had their fill of shopping. Things were reasonably cheap. Most of them were fakes. Everything was sold in US dollars. In fact, the whole economy in Siem Reap seemed to be based on the greenback. Everywhere we went and everything that we had spent on - hotel, food, tour guide services, tickets, even the bric-bracs that the street children tried to sell us - were all quoted to us in US dollars. You don't need to change your money to the local Cambodian currency (Riel) when you come to Siem Reap.
As we explored further, we decided to give our poor tired feet a break. The foot massages in these street side places were very very good. We relaxed in comfortable reclined seats. The masseurs' fingers were very strong. It was a very pleasant experience.
As night fell, the city centre sprang to life. This was a very happening place - pubs, discos, karaoke, restaurants - every kind of entertainment was there for the the tourists' bucks.
And it was time for us to look for food again. We browsed around. After 3 days of not-to-my-liking Cambodian food, I was actually looking for a western meal. There was plenty of it here. Then we came to this place offering Cambodian BBQ. We saw some other people having it. And it looked interesting.
The waiter led us to the back portion of the restaurant. It was very nice. It was kind of a back lane. Along it were more restaurants. The atmosphere was superb. The place reminded me of Plaka in Athens.
We ordered the Degustation menu. It served 7 kinds of meat. We told the waiter to hold the crocodile.
For starters we had the fresh Cambodian spring rolls. It came in a big tray with some salad and a peanut sauce. The rolls were good. Much better than those we had in the Khmer Kitchen the night before.
We had 2 trays of meat - beef, chicken, pork, barracuda, shark and squid. That was a lot of meat for 4 of us.
The vegetables and meats were cooked in a gas stove cum steamboat like so. The pot was annular in shape. The top was for the BBQ. All around it was a circular trough where they pour in soup and cook the vegetables and noodles. They put a large piece of pork lard in the centre of the BBQ for the oil and flavour.
We had our meats on the BBQ to roast.
As the meats were cooked, the juices flowed down into the soup. In time, the soup became very flavourful. As we drank it and as it evaporated, the waiter added in more. This innovation of a BBQ cum steamboat was remarkable. I enjoyed the meat as much as the vegetables and noodles in the soup.
The meal was our last notable event of our stay in Siem Reap. Early next morning, we were at the airport for our Air Asia flight back home. Our stay in Siem Reap turned out to be much better than we had expected. Thanks to Alan and Joyce for the great company.