Monday, September 09, 2013

When in Siem Reap, should you check the Tonle Sap Lake?

Siem Reap, Cambodia is more popularly known for the Angkor Wat temples. But after a day or two inside the Angkor Wat complex, temple fatigue kicks in.

"Temples again!" I heard myself saying upon getting back to the tuktuk to move on to the nth temple.
(When you're traveling alone, you can't help but talk to yourself, sometimes.)

Since I started checking out the Angkor Wat temples as early as 5am to catch the sunrise, by noontime, I was already finished visiting the 'essentials' -- that is, the Angkor Wat, Bayon, and Ta Prohm -- as well as the other temples and sites that are not really frequented by tourists but are also worth seeing.

"What else do you want to see?" my tuktuk driver asked me after eating lunch at one of the eateries inside the Angkor Wat complex.

I didn't know what to answer, so he offered to take me to the jump off point to the floating village at no extra charge even if it's about 30 minutes from Angkor Wat.

Price of whole day tour of the Angkor Wat temples with the tuktuk driver was $15 at the time.

The floating village is right at the Tonle Sap lake, or "the Great Lake" according to Cambodians, is aptly called for being the largest in Southeast Asia. It is home to more than one million Cambodians and Vietnamese, and if I got it right what my boatman told me, there are Muslims, Buddhists and Hindi living in this massive body of water.

I was asked to pay $30 for the boat ride, which would last up to about two hours. By any standard, $30 is ridiculous! But I was alone and have no one to split the cost with. And I thought it is not every day that I get to go to Cambodia, so I bit the bullet.

The pluses
What is amazing to see in this part of Cambodia is that everything floats -- there was a floating basketball, a floating pig pen, a floating crocodile "farm," a floating school, and of course the floating dwellings of the residents, most of which are fisher folk. Too bad I missed the floating market, as I was at an awkward time when I went there, when most people are probably taking their afternoon naps or simply avoiding the harsh rays of the sun.

THE FLOATING PIG pen at Tonle Sap Lake.
BETTER PREPARE A dollar or two for this snake-charmer kid!
 My boatman happened to be a jolly person, so it was a nice chat with him even if he was struggling with his English. After hearing his sad life story, I tipped him $5.

THERE'S MY BOATMAN who kept calling me "Gerards" with the "S."
 The minuses
Because it's a lake, of course, the first consideration is the quality of water. Coming from a developing country myself, muddy and unclear water is not at all new to me (I work in Manila and it is almost everyday that I get to see Pasig River, which is the epitome of how bad waterways succumbed to water pollution). And because more than one million people live here, you may want to guess where their drainage and toilets are.

Among the highlights of this tour include the floating museum, the floating crocodile farm and the floating souvenir store. I don't really find these entertaining at all, with the crocodile "farm" far from what a breeding place for crocodiles is supposed to be. And if you're looking for souvenirs, better hit the market in Siem Reap where prices are lower and the choices much more varied.


The verdict
Should you go and check out the Tonle Sap Lake while in Siem Reap? As for me, it was quite an experience and I don't have any regrets going there. I just felt that a $30 charge was too much for a boat ride.

Tip sheet:
- If ever you're thinking of going to the floating village, make it clear with your tuktuk driver first if he's charging you extra for the trip to the jump off point.
- The $30 is supposedly the charge for the entire boat ride. It would have been cheaper for me if I had companions. If you're traveling alone, better wait for hoards of tourists that you can join in so that you have a whole lot of them to split the cost with.
- Come earlier.
- Before jumping on the boat, clarify first with the boatman or the one supervising the boat trips the fees that you have to pay. Some boat men, I was told, obliges their passengers to tip them $3. Fees for guides are separate, so MAKE IT A POINT TO CLARIFY.
- Beware of touts.
- A bit wary after reading this post? Try riding a boat from Battambang going to Tonle Sap. Other travelers say that is the most scenic boat ride in the whole of Cambodia.

THIS IS HOW the people of Tonle Sap Lake define "marketing."

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Rica said...