Siem Reap meaning ‘defeat of Siam’, now Thailand, is the gateway to the Angkor region and sits on the edge of Tonle Sap Lake, the largest fresh water lake in South East Asia and quite a quirky one at that. It’s flow changes direction a couple of times a year. During the dry season, November to April, it empties into the Mekong River at Phnom Penh and shrinks down until it is just a metre deep and 2700 square kilometers in size. During the wet season it backs up from Mekong to increase it’s area five fold and it’s depth moves up to 9 metres in places.
For this reason, a lot of houses in the area are built on stilts and appear to ‘float’. So who could resist a visit to a floating village, especially as we were a bit Angkor’d out now and were looking to see what else this area could offer with our extra day.
We wandered up to and then along the river to the main market to watch everyday life unfold. We visited an artisan workshop that gave skills and security to disabled and disadvantaged people from the area. They skillfully worked silk, wood and even stone is produced into a wide range of beautiful gifts to reflect Cambodia’s heritage.
ArtisanAfter a spot of lunch, we negotiated a tuk tuk to take us to the Tonle Sap lake side which was about 10 kms away. The journey was a right treasure trove for the eyeballs, it is one long village with the river lapping at the road side and the raised homes of all shapes and sizes, holding on to existence with less than a prayer in some cases. People were washing and cooking at their door fronts, kids were throwing themselves off low bridges for entertainment. There was fishing, bargaining, shouting from bars as men watched boxing on the tv, while women were doing more useful things. The constant throng of bikes (both motor and pedal) competing with 4x4s and tuk tuks up this bumpy and in places non-existent road.
The vast lake came into view, stilted houses sat amongst lush vegetation, fishing boats and tourist launches were busy going about their business, but almost lost on the wide screen panoramic view that was in front of us. Although the journey back took the same route, the entertainment was just as varied with school kids waving and shouting hello and parents operating their babies hands to acknowledge our whiteness, or greenness as the bumpy road began to work on the balancing mechanisms that stops us from falling over. There was even a game of volleyball taking place.
Phare, meaning “Brightness of the Arts” is part of a wider project to give children from broken backgrounds a chance to be educated and learn skills in the arts including theatre, music, dance, acrobatics, contortionism and juggling. This culminates in a series of circus shows that display accomplished performances with great humour and story telling. The show this evening was called ‘Chills’ and was exploring anxiety and fears and how we must face them. These young performers put on a great show filled with great acrobatics and wonderful fun. An absolute delight!