Thursday, October 05, 2006

Trip: Cambodia
Date: October 5, 2006
Place: Siem Reap

I made it to Siem Reap today (by boat!) Going by boat was definitely the right decision! It was absolutely beautiful! I am now completely resolved to do a Mekong boat tour the next time that I am here, even if I have to charter all of the boats by myself!

The boat itself was a bit funny. It was a medium-sized covered boat with air conditioning. There was no outddoor seating, but the inside was so dingy (the windows were so old and dirty that you could hardly see out and it smelled like mold) that nobody wanted to sit inside, so we all sat on the roof of the boat! The breeze and view were lovely...

At first, I was afraid that it would rain again today (my plans to see the Killing Fileds were thwarted yesterday by another torrential downpour...), but it just sprinkled for about five minutes and then it cleared. We left at 7am, so I had the opportunity to see all of the little villages along the river in the golden early morning light. It was just beautiful!

When we finally got to the Tonle Sap lake, it felt like we were on an ocean, because the lake is so large (100 miles long by 30 miles wide during the rainy season) that I couldn't see land anywhere! Apparently the Tonle Sap is one of nature's more unusual attractions. Each year, the Mekong reverses its course due to excess water coming down from the melted snow in the Himalayas. The water backs up the river and it flows into Tonle Sap. When the Mekong flows normally, it is a rather small lake with lots of islands, but at the end of the rainy season (which is now), the lake completely floods, growing four times in size, and drowns acres of forests. The leaves from those trees then become food for the myriad fresh water fish who live in the lake. (I heard that it is the largest source of fresh water fish in the world!)

The residents here have adapted to the annual flooding by living in floating houses. Each year their house moves miles as the lake grows and shrinks. Everything floats! The schools, the houses, the grocery stores, the gas stations... It was very cool to see!

After we docked (a few kilometers from Siem Reap), we were swarmed with people offering us tuk tuk rides, guide services, and guesthouses. They jumped onto the boat and were ruthlessly pursuing our business! I just finished rereading The Celestine Prophecy, so I was trying to follow my intuition and coincidences in selecting a guesthouse... The coincidence for me was that I met a guy on the bus from Don Khon to Kompong Cham who has a friend who owns a guesthouse in Siem Reap. The guy lived in Siem Reap for several years and worked here as a guide. The price was right, so I decided to stay at his friend's guest house - Good Kind Guest House. It is run by a Cambodian family, and they are all simply charming!! The owner drove me to the post office in his tuk tuk when I said that I needed stamps, and the kids are just adorable! The guest house is clean and well situated too, so I think I definitely made the right choice!

Tomorrow I am off to Angkor Wat!!

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