Monday, March 23, 2015

Fishing Villages on the Mekong and Other Siem Reap Sights

I joined a small guided tour to see everything in Siem Reap that did NOT involve temples, and I'm so glad I did! A small van picked up a very small group of people and took us out to a nearby village and a set of bikes. The guide told us about the everyday lives of the people here and as we passed one home little kids ran out and jumped on the backs of our bikes for a bit, like little monkey hitchhikers. Turns out that they know our guide and they know that if they hang around long enough he'll come by and give them bananas as treats. After we said goodbye to the kids we rode past a school where morning classes were in session and then to a local market to check out the produce.

The gas in liquor bottle concept is alive and well throughout all of SE Asia.
Gives a new meaning to the Johnny Walker bottles...forget walking:
today, Johnny rides a scooter!

The baggies up top are filled with palm oil, to the left of those the gray mush is 
fermented fish paste (I was too scared to try it), the bucket in the middle is 
filled with tamarind pods, and the bundles on the right are dried fish snacks.

Sanitation isn't a huge worry around here, but no one questions the woman
who wields that cleaver with such dexterity and expertise. 

People drive straight into the busy markets with their motorbikes to do their shopping,
loading the baskets on the back with produce for the next few days.

The way to ensure that you're getting a fresh eel is to keep it alive until purchase

This woman perched right on the table along with her wares, and was happy to 
clean, gut and chop the fish however you liked then and there.

After dropping off our bikes we headed to another town right on the river for lunch at the home of a local and to see how people lived in the stilted houses. Right now it's the dry season here so in some parts the river is just a small trickle of sludge, but during rainy season it swells up and rises all the way up making all those supports very necessary. Most of the houses are built high enough to be safe, but now and then the river gets enthusiastic and people's homes get flooded for weeks at a time.

Venturing further into the river we find the more dedicated fishermen abodes. The people who live here chose to build their houses on top of boats and stay suspended above the river that is their livelihood through all seasons. Some of the homes here belong to Vietnamese families and some to Cambodians, and turns out that even in communities as small as this, the two cultures don't really get along, choosing to stick to their own sides for the most part.

At the end of the trip we stopped by the side of the road for a snack. I don't recall what this treat was called, but it's basically a mixture of rice, coconut milk, sugar and red beans that's baked inside of green bamboo wrapped in a banana leaf over a coal fire. The mass cooks inside and caramelizes a bit and turns into a chewy and not too sweet treat that you have to break open the bamboo to get to. Yum!

After the trip I wandered around the city on my own for a bit. There were a few local temples with women selling intricately woven flower arrangements to offer up inside, as well as vendors on bikes selling fruit to passersby.

The infamous and popular Pub Street comes alive at night with hundreds of neon signs, loud music, street food vendors, a night market for random souvenirs as well as lots and lots of restaurants. A few of the restaurants are multi-purpose, in that one might give jobs and offer training to people with disabilities, and another might offer hospitality and restaurant training to kids from very poor families. You might need to have a bit of patience when eating at one of these, but the staff is always incredibly friendly and quite eager to make you happy. Besides, what's there to rush for anyways?

Another wonderful project here in town is the Cambodian Circus. They too take kids from poor families and offer them training in acrobatics and other arts, but more importantly they teach them the value of self worth and their unlimited possibilities in life. They show you a short video before the show starts where the kids talk about what a change the circus has made in the quality of their lives and in their hopes for their futures and it's quite inspiring. The show itself was quite impressive as well, with a funny story line to move the acrobatic feats along.

In the middle of my second foray into the temples mentioned in my last post, I stopped at a small sign on the side of the road that advertised a butterfly farm and I popped in to check it out. Here they will show you the entire lifespan of a butterfly, from eggs (who knew?), to larvae, to caterpillars, to chrysalis, to scrunched up butterflies trying to pump blood into their smushed wings and resting from their recent rebirth, to the fluttering beauties who float about the nearby garden. 

All different kinds of caterpillars are kept in containers and vases that are checked on
several times a day, and migrated to the next station as needed.

I'll admit, this bouquet is a bit creepy...

This butterfly just hatched and is hanging out furiously pumping blood 
to it's wings to spread them and fly

The same butterfly from above almost ready to go, just needed another breather

I watched this little guy hatch and try to fly too soon. He tumbled into my hand
and I carried him around the garden with me until he was ready to fly again.

Stick bugs! I don't know what else to say to convey my excitement over this!

The next day I left the temples and headed further on to Phnom Penh to learn about the history of this country, as hard as that will be, but that's for another time and another post.

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