Friday, October 3, 2008

in this installment, james buys some sweet cambodia coke.

Today after the temples we voted to take our driver's advice and visit the "floating city." Matt was good enough to front the cash (outside my daily budget ... which is sad since it was not expensive by American standards!) and we headed south of Siem Reap.

The road was build on a sort-of levy that stretched far out into the water. I thought were were at the lake, the lake our driver told us was the largest body of fresh-water in South-East Asia, but it turns out were were still "on land."

Further out, the road was lined with shanties and full-blown houses, all resting on rickety wood poles about five inches in diameter. The front walks were a patchwork of twigs and planks that seemed to stretch magically and sans support from the house to the road ... often times lined with multiple motorbikes.

This place is loved by tourists AND locals, who head out to fish. It's SWARMING with people, living and traveling multiple directions on a road not much wider than a single vehicle. As usual, Mopeds and Tuk Tuks abound.

Eventually side by side buildings stop, replaced by boats. We hopped into one and cruised out through the wide channels that cut through the tree tops.

Yes, I said tree tops. Those patches of dense foliage that you just assume are relative to seaweed? No, they're trees. Wood trunks, abundant green leaves, the usual. Thing is, these trees can survive completely dry or completely submerged. Don't ask me about the science, I don't have a clue, especially since even Lily Pads need a floating solar panel. But that's what he told us and that's what we saw. Imagine if your yard flooded and your apple trees disappeared up to their highest branches ... it was quite something to realize.

For thirty minutes we weaved around single-person boats, floating schools, floating houses, floating ball courts (not even joking ... imagine one of the smaller gyms at your local Boys and Girls Club floating in the middle of a third world country with metal grate instead of cement walls) and a floating restaurant and gift shop.

Just before we cleared the village for open water, a small boat snuck behind us, crossed our wake, and paced out speed. A five-year-old girls leaped to our boat, toting a plastic pail filled with Coke and Sprite and Angkor Beer (fast becoming my favorite - like Asahi, with a smack of ancient stone ...). She was adorable and precocious and wasn't leaving our boat til we bought some. This is standard fair over here ... kids will follow you up to a quarter mile begging you to buy trinkets, drinks, flutes, t-shirts (and don't bother pretending to speak only Spanish, they are multilingual when it comes to selling!), but never before have I been cornered while in a moving vehicle!

So I bought two, gave one to Matt, and the girl leaped back to her own boat. The whole experience was very surreal.

Turns out the legendary size of this lake was not exaggerated. Like the Great Lakes in the American North, the horizon ends in water for 180 degrees at the river mouth.

The lake is enormous but only 40 feet at its deepest, making it a constant state of Sediment Brown and making it quite easy to totally and utterly pollute!

We made out way back, stopping at the floating gift shop of course, where our guide pointed out other awesome things on a map and we got to watch their tank of live Crocs, and then hit the road back to Siem Reap.

It was an awesome adventure, and already added to my list of life goals that grows more expensive every day, is to fund a floating English school that I can visit when I want.

The place was impossible to describe, and unfortunately even though I shot some video a 2 megapixel camera cannot do it justice. For the best idea of what it was like, watch Waterworld. Just take out the lame ending, fishmen, and the anti-smoking campaign, and that's pretty much what it was like.


KathyB. said...

Wow, this is so fascinating. I just cannot picture what you have described. A whole , unique world on and in water. You could just as well be describing life on another planet or an episode of Star Trek, that is how different your description sounds from anything I have ever seen or read about. Thank-you, and please, pictures !

Anonymous said...

Good, because I *love* smoking.

I'm really looking forward to your footage of this place. Every time I get a picture in my head of what I figure it probably looks like, I assume I must be wrong because it just sounds utterly unimaginable for someone from the 'sha.