Phew today has been busy! Last night we discussed an early morning temple visit, but between a hungover German, jet lagged Brit and confused Irish girl we didn’t quite get our act together in time. Honestly though, when the knock at the door came at 04.30 for some other eager sod who’d slept through their alarm I was only too happy to have the option to roll back over and go to sleep. 24 hours in transit and suddenly I’m a big fan of my bed! Luckily, once a civilised hour presented itself, a switched on Belgian and researched Filipino had plans and recommendations for every occasion – and so we were off! Our first stop was Artisans Angkor, where our guide Benna explained how the charity has been working since 1992 to educate talented men and women from rural Cambodia in traditional Khmer arts; including wood and stone carving, silk weaving and painting, ceramics and the application of gold leaf application and varnish.
It was essentially a whistle stop tour in how almost every souvenir you see in South East Asian markets are created. The answer? Painstakingly slowly and with a LOT of work. One exquisite piece of artwork depicting the famous tree at Ta Prohm allegedly took one artist over a month to complete. Really makes you appreciate some of the craftsmanship which goes into these things, and potentially rethink driving such a hard bargain when bartering at the many night markets around.
From the artisan workshop Kat (Belgian medical student), Dario (the German ex-paratrooper) and I rented bikes for $1 each and set off to cycle the 17km’s to Tonle Sap, and one of the many floating villages which exist there. Of course the second we hit the road the heavens opened and it was a quick dash to buy camera covering ponchos before continuing our journey. I always seem to visit Asia in the wet season; though honestly I’m not sure I would have managed a 20mile round trip cycle in high summer!
The journey there was uneventful, but with much to see as the slower pace allows you a glimpse into local lives which a tuktuk does not. It’s quite something to see shack after corrugated shack, each sporting a satellite dish and in one case a flat screen TV! There were frequent cries of ‘hello!’ from children and adults alike as we went past.
We rode a little too far at the end of our journey, straight into some mud flats which instantly clogged wheels and stuck to flip flops. The locals insisted we were on the right track, but after <10m slipping around bare foot and practically carrying my bike I elected to turn back, shortly followed by the other two, to the last outpost we had seen. Luckily this turned out to be the boat station, and we were off again.
I love being on the water, and sat on the prow of a motor boat washing my muddy feet whilst hearing about the local way of life put a big smile on my face. The only work in the area is fishing, and people travel from miles around to catch and harvest the many spoils the river and lake have to offer. Somewhere during the long list of fish I hadn’t heard of I picked up quite a familiar word,‘Kan,’ I asked our guide ‘did you say crocodiles?’
‘Yes!’ came the beaming response
needless to say my toes didn’t stay in the water much longer.
Kan is a typical Asian tour guide; a huge smile, lots of stories and a zest for life and ensuring you enjoy your time with him. He was so full of facts that the half hour boat trip seemed to go by in a flash. The village, for example, is home to almost a million people, and the river floats on from Tonle Sap up into Laos, Vietnam and China. Whilst with Kan we visited an orphan school, and spent a good time playing catch, teaching the kids about dlsr’s and learning about hippos (most important). It felt sad to leave them on their floating home, but with a floating basketball court, church, restaurants and many other things nearby it seems they have everything they need and are well looked after.
Shortly after this adventure we realised the light was fading and we were far from home with no head torches to speak of. This meant we sadly had to decline Kuns offer to visit his home in the mountains and begin a very long, dark, bike ride back to the city. For the most part it was fine as houses, restaurants, tuktuks and mopeds lit the way and we were able to set up my mobile in the front basket for something of a warning to oncoming traffic. The pace of life here is so slow and the roads so full of holes that noone was moving too fast, and within an hour we were back in civilisation enjoying some delicious Khmer food and a $1 g&g – life here is tough!
Tomorrow it’s my turn to enjoy a 4am start as we head to the temples to enjoy what I think may be a Glastonbury sunrise (more of a general lightening of the grey). So for now it’s off back to my bed!