On our final afternoon in Siem Reap we visited the floating village. The village is located on the Tonie Sap lake, a huge expanse of water that meets the Mekong River.
‘The boy’, hubby and I jumped in a small tugboat and we headed off up the river to explore. ‘The boy’ seemed to enjoy peering over the edge of the boat and the realisation that we were in one of the slowest vessels was a benefit as he was able to wave at all the passing tourists. One of the first buildings we came upon was the local church. Built of wood and painted white with a huge cross on the top, it bobs around on the water with only a few small houses either side. The smaller houses are perched on top of tugboats, the larger ones are built on platforms that are kept afloat on old barrels. The houses are painted in bright colours and many of the inhabitants were sitting out on the front deck watching us go past in our boats.
We watched the local children splashing about in the water, having fun, and although this is normal for the kids who grow up in the village, I thought it very brave, as the water is also home to crocs. It’s certainly not somewhere I would want to play for fun.
After a tour of the village we stopped at a floating café. The café stop was obviously the ‘normal’ stopping place for tourists as within minutes of mooring locals who were begging for money surrounded us. A girl, who couldn’t have been older than eight, was paddling around the café deck, but not in a boat, in a tin washing up bowl and to top it off she had a snake around her neck. Women with their babies balanced precariously on the bow of their tiny boats, arms outstretched, cried and wailed in our direction. It was a very bizarre sight and although upsetting was obviously a ritual that took place many times a day on the arrival of each fresh batch of tourists.
The downside of the village tour was the obvious scam that had been set up to push tourists to part with their cash. We heard a very sad story about the local school that is apparently full of orphans. The story was very elaborate and we told how the children had hardly any money, food or possessions. We were then told we could only visit the school if we bought the children some food or school supplies from the local shop. After five months on the road I’ve become very cynical, so at this point I already suspected something wasn’t quite right. We pulled up at the tiny shop and my hubby went in to see what he could purchase. Only it wasn’t a normal little local shop. It was selling everything in bulk AND at the most ridiculously overinflated prices you’ve ever seen. It was expensive by UK standards, with a pack of ten small poor quality exercise books being sold for $15, and a tray of noodles $25! Much to the boat driver’s annoyance we refused to buy anything, but other tourists did, thus encouraging the scam to continue.
The blatant overpricing put a bit of a damper on the village experience, but it would be hard to spoil our overall experience of Siem Reap, which is a very positive one. It’s certainly one of the highlights of our trip.
Top tip of the day:
If you’re out for the day on a boat or on a long bus journey we find that standard nappies (as oppose to pull ups) are preferable. It’s quicker and easier to change your baby’s nappy on the move when you don’t have to take their trousers and shoes off.