Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for Lake Tonle Sap

This post is part of the AtoZChallenge, which I'm doing on my recent trip to Siem Reap in Cambodia.

The first part of this post is here.

The brown canal

After we left the Floating Village behind, we were suddenly surrounded by mangroves on both sides. Despite the noise of the boat's engines, the world suddenly became peaceful - just the brown water, the green trees, the grey-blue sky, and us.

The mangrove

After a little while of this, we started noticing that the water was changing colour - it was becoming bluer. Soon, the mangroves thinned. The mud banks became more sandy. The horizons opened out and - we emerged from the canal onto a large body of water.

The border between the canal and the lake

I suddenly realized what this water body must be - this was Lake Tonle Sap! I'd spent many days dreaming of Cambodia and poring over Siem Reap on Google Maps, and I had seen this gigantic lake to the south of Siem Reap. (The lake is so large that it covers 1.5% of the surface area of CAMBODIA!) I'd wished then that we could visit it, but it had looked too far away from Siem Reap. But here we were! For some reason, I suddenly remembered the moment in Journey to the Center of the Earth where the accidental explorer stumbles on an underground ocean.

The lake was dotted here and there with floating structures - houses, restaurants, even storage platforms full of oil drums. Our rusty blue boat plodded heavily across the grey water towards one of the floating 'buildings'. The bright red awning told us it was a restaurant.

One of the restaurants

Ah, we realized, the usual tourist trap - the boat boy would take a cut of the money the restaurant owner earned from us. Which made us promptly decide not to eat there. For the sake of form, we got off and sat there for a few minutes before getting back on the boat - enough time for the boat boy to get a can of free soft drink.

On our way back, we stopped at a boat jetty we had seen on the way to the lake - a set of stairs led up from the jetty to a restaurant and to an attractive red walkway, which looked like it went quite a distance into the forest.

A board outside the restaurant

The walkway did, indeed, lead into the mangrove. It was a surreal sort of structure, a strange thing to find after the squalor of the village. Why had somebody decided to build this beautiful red thing in the middle of the forest? It looked like either their money or their interest had run out after a while. A few dozen meters from the restaurant, the walkway lost its railings, and then even the posts for the railings. That made us turn back, scared that the next thing to go would be the sticks supporting the walkway.

The walkway - the initial nice phase

And that was the end of our Kompong Pluk tour. We got back into the boat, which took us back past the mangrove, past the floating village, past all the boats and houses and people, to the muddy bank we had started from. Our tuk-tuk driver, smiling as always, collected us from the boat, and drove us back past the paddy fields, past the skinny cows, past the multiple entry gates, past the houses of rural Cambodia, back to our hotel.

It was our last day in Cambodia.
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