Our second day Siem Reap we decided to head east. Mr. Hon had been waiting patiently for us probably since at least 7am, eager to take us on another day of exploration around Siem Reap.
The wet season in Thailand has just ended (late Sept., early Oct.) which means the Tonle Sap lake, which gets massive during the wet season (12,500 sq km), has started to shrink. During the dry season it will get down to around 2500 sq km. You can google how this crazy lake-size-change phenomenon occurs – I won’t bore you with the details here but it is pretty cool.
The reason this warrants a mention is that we went to see the stilted village of Kompong Phluk which is located just off the lake. During wet season, the village’s inhabitants rake in the largest freshwater fish catch of anywhere in the world. I know, surprised me too. During the dry season, most of them leave – but it was still close enough to the wet season that many of them were still there.
We first took a large boat down around the village and then took a small canoe, paddled by a local, through the village. The houses are built on huge stilts in the water – when we went through there was a fair amount of space between the bottom of the house and the water, leaving 10 feet of stilts exposed, but during peak wet season the water is right up at the bottom of the houses.
During our canoe trip people were just going about business as normal, canoeing around fruits and veggies, collecting fish, day to day stuff. Lots of kids, mostly dressed in their birthday suits, were having a blast playing in the water. To them, their village is just one massive waterpark. They were all smiles, having loads of fun doing cannonballs off their front porches into their front “lawns”. Click here for a video I took a video of some kids paddling around in buckets with big smiles on their face. With the toddlers, many of their parents would be standing in the water with an open-arms landing pad to show them it was safe to jump in, just as any parent in the states would teach their child not to fear the water in a public pool.
It was somewhat humbling to see what conditions these folks live in. It was hot and wet – no A.C., no clean running water, none of the niceties people enjoy in any developed country. I don’t think I can ever legitimately complain about a living situation again.
After taking us through the village, our local canoe guide took us through a nearby mango grove, also growing right in the water.
After the mango grove, we got back to our large boat and our two young drivers (18 and 20 – Cambodian guys) took us out onto the fringe of (still massive) Tonle Sap Lake. It was a very hot day and while we set our anchor down for 20 minutes the 2 guys decided to jump in to cool off. They asked us if we wanted to join – I politely declined, having read the CDC’s warning not to swim in Cambodian freshwater – our pansy immune systems have not built up the natural defenses to the stuff in these waters like local Cambodians’ immune systems have. Ben, having concluded that the CDC’s warning was “overcautious”, jumped right in, practicing several flips and dives off the boat. He said the water was warm on the top like a hot tub, but cooler 8-10 feet below the surface.