Khmer Civilisation: Of Tonle Sap, Craftsmen & The Last Dinner

I remembered vaguely waking up at 6 in the morning to loud thunderstorm with the wind howling and rattling the glass panes. I then went back to sleep. Woke up two hours later and the thunderstorm was reduced to a drizzle, showered and headed down for breakfast. Was already sick with the overload of meat so I headed for the porridge section (boo!) and settled that with more toasted croissants. 

Conditions for the day was perfect. A cool breeze playing with our hair and the sun was only able to peek through a blanket of clouds. Syok! Highlight of the day is the largest freshwater lake in SEA!

Along the way, Hok stopped at one of the villages and pointed out the lotus farms to us. These houses (or rather huts) are pretty close to the Tonle Sap Lake. As the lake grows up to four times its size during the monsoon season, the huts nearby had to be float-able or built on high stilts to survive the high water levels.

Some of these huts are so small to begin with but they are sometimes occupied by as many as 5-10 people.

The overnight rain really made all the difference. For the first time ever, we were able to frolick under the sun without breaking sweat! No sweaty pits = syok! Anyways, Hok dropped us off at the jetty where we climbed into a boat (entry $10, boat ride $2) and told us that he will see us in two hour's time. 

First impression: This lake is darn polluted!

A muddy brown shade, this lake provides the bulk of Cambodia's catch. The water level is pretty low, being a dry season and all, so we encountered quite a bit of a 'traffic jam' on the river towards the lake!

Boats have to be navigated in a single file (you can't really risk overtaking another boat because your boat could get stuck on the shallow riverbed). Initially we were wondering why the heck our boat is so slow before noticing these signboards.

We sort of speculated and agreed that the one on the left means boats shall not leave a trail of waves behind and the one on the right are for boats to travel in a single file. lol. We would probably fail in getting a license to operate a boat here. Though I doubt you need one to operate one.

 A boat in front of us got stuck. The boatman gets out, drags a long pole from the rooftop of the boat and stabs the riverbed with the pole and pushes the boat away. It is that shallow.

Got a bit of a surprise when a small boat gets near to ours and this man jumps in to sell canned soda drinks. Talk about boat-to-boat salesman!

Close to forty minutes later, we approached the lake (it probably should have been a short ride, but these boats can't overtake nor spill waves) before spotting floating settlements in the distance. Our boatman tells us that plenty of illegal immigrant Vietnamese live on the lake.

Shot from TY that I find to be really cute and picturesque.
Got every other type of floating building here.

   Got church.

Got workshop oso.

Think you can't quite have pets if you live in a floating house? Think again! Can get a goose as a pet! Great as a swimming partner or served on the dinner plate.
Don't quite like feathers? No problem. Can keep dogs too! Great as a companion or served on the dinner plate.

But seriously, there's practically everything to meet your daily needs here. We saw a few grocery-floating-shops, a floating school... well, you get the picture. I jokingly told the others, who knows, we might come across a large vessel with a signboard that says 'Lucky Mall'. Hehe.... But of all things, the one thought that bugged me most was, where they get their drinking water from. I mean, it's a lake and all so water flow would be very limited... Ah well, I wouldn't be ordering drinks out here then.

 Our boatman dropped us off at this massive floating tourist shop/restaurant/crocodile farm. Just as soon as we were docked to the platform, a swarm of locals with their fruits-laden sampans came pestering us to buy their goods. 

Pretending not to understand them, we followed our boatman to a section of the platform where crocodiles are reared, albeit at a small scale.


Climbing on top of the boat deck, we were rewarded with a bird's eye view of the Tonle Sap lake. That is, before a wave of Chinese tourists crowded on the deck, forcing me to descend back to the lower deck lol.

The furling Cambodian flag against a cloudy morning.

I was super unlucky lor. At that point, I badly wanted to go to the loo but the toilets on the platform was under construction! Lol... Good thing I'm still young and able to tahan lol. Anyways, there wasn't anything much more interesting to look at other than more souvenirs so we found our boat and made our way back to the jetty.

Another local woman with her infant trying to sell us some things...

Another forty minutes of slow boat ride later, we met up with Hok again and he brought us back to the Siem Reap city for us to shop at the local Old Market.

Wet market.

I think Old Market sells some of the souvenirs at a cheaper rate than the night market that we've been to. Or perhaps my haggling skills have somewhat improved and could get local crafts cheaper towards the last days of my stay here? -__-

Hok promised to bring us to a restaurant which he claims, to serve one of the best meals in Siem Reap, though more expensive. 

And we soon found out why. The place has a pretty nice ambience, rattan chairs, palm-leaves-woven mat and cutleries holder, the works. The place mostly caters to tourists and prices are not exactly exorbitant but definitely we paid a bit more than where we have dined so far. 

Again, Hok did the ordering for us but did not join, citing the restaurant already provides meals for guides.

Our food took a loooong time to arrive. But at least the service there was good. Waiters are attentive (not the type you have to jiggle your chicken wings arms at them before they finally notice the flapping) and are eager to please.

Clockwise from top, ginger soup with pork slices, steamed fish with kerabu on top, a sort of sour pineapple soup with coconut milk chicken and of course the amok. I particularly enjoyed the amok here and the ginger soup, but other than that, I think Hok has exaggerated! The best is still the local place we went, delicious and dirt cheap to boot!

Wanting to sample more of Cambodian desserts, we ordered this sweet potato with sago and coconut milk. If our meal took an eternity to arrive, our dessert took approximately a hundred light years to show up. Not kidding!

Sweet and yummy. Not the bill though. The lunch costs us close to $37, including drinks. The most expensive meal so far, but this being a touristy place, can't really blame them.

Because our dessert took a hundred light years to arrive, we had to skip our silk factory tour (boohoo!) and headed for Artisan d'Angkor instead. Artisan d'Angkor is where commercial scultpures, bas reliefs, paintings and such were crafted and sold. The artisan is also involved in restoration work on the ancient temples around Siem Reap.

Interesting still are the people behind the arts and crafts of the products. Some are blind, or deaf and some are handicapped. But they are trained under the watchful eyes of the trainers, or teachers they call them, to trace, sculpt, mold precisely. When the products are completed, they are sent to their 'teachers' where their works are scrutinized and  QC'ed before being displayed for the masses to purchase.

After the short tour, we surveyed the souvenir shop (no pictures allowed) and let our jaws drop at the exorbitant prices each sculptures fetch. Some go as high as five-figure USD! Quite content with that we could forage from the local markets, we left empty-handed.

Next stop, Khmer massage!!! Been looking forward to this after many, many hours of climbing, hiking and walking. The girls who acted as our masseuse are all very young, they look like they're still in high school. But when I asked, they said they are already 18, or 20. Hmm... maybe they just want to stay out of trouble? Either way, the massage was heavenly.... They even applied cooling cucumber mask on my face before the session began. Blissful. There was also a hint of Thai massage (you know, the stretching and pulling part) but one thing that differs is that the Khmer massage does not require you to undress because no oil was applied.

A 2-hour massage costs $15, I call that a good deal. Right after, Ev asked for a tour to the killing fields where records of the Khmer Rouge were kept in a sort of museum. It was already dark so we didn't take pictures but listening to the violence of the communists who torture and brainwashed the people of Cambodian back then was eerie enough.

It was only a short trip to the killing fields and soon after, Hok sent us back to the hotel for a quick shower before dinner at another 'real' local restaurant. 

Hok brought us to another dodgy-looking restaurant. This time the restaurant is really dark with the exception of a few dimly-lighted bulbs here and there. We were again greeted by young Cambodian girls lined up at the entrance. I later found out that the dark environment is preferred by male Cambodians who want the companions of the young girls.

Dinner was a bit of a letdown after the superb one the previous night :( Mixed vegetables dish with seafood was the only one I enjoyed.

Steamed fish with mango condiment. It was really dark that we can hardly see what we are eating! To tell you the truth, the first real glimpse of what we had that night was through TY's photo shots. lol.

Fried kampung chicken... real tough meat!

And finally... the must-have soup dish. This one tasted very weird to me. Hok says this soup has duck pieces in it and we were also provided with a basketful of raw vegetables and mushrooms to mix together with the soup. Imagine my apprehension when the soup served was not steamboat style with a heat source, but in a bowl and we are supposed to mix them up with raw greens? Lol... Couldn't stomach more than a few bites....

Dinner was relatively cheap too, though I can't remember how much it was now. But definitely under $20. Dead tired, all of us trudged back to our hotel rooms to start packing for our flight back home... well, with the exception of a couple in the group who partied the night away and ended with major hangover -.-

Early flight the next day, and Hok picked us up at 6:30am. Had enough time for breakfast at the hotel before lugging our backpacks into the car.

Our funny shots on our temple passes.

I miss Cambodia already! ;)


  1. Eyer @ "jiggle your chicken wings arms at them before they finally notice the flapping"

    It's too bad we didn't go to Tonle Sap, imagine living there in a floating city. But yeah, they used the same water to eat, drink, wash and clean... *stomach churn* and what's up with the domesticated pets ending up on dinner plate. ishq.

    Another thing we did was asked Hok to take us to his kampung, where his sister lives and he has 4 nieces, I think you saw pictures of them before. The beef soup she cooked was SOOOOoooo YUMMY, I can still recall how it tates like, almost like caldo de res hehe But it was far from the city (one hour drive each way) and as darkness fell, we could hear swarms of mosquitoes and other insects take over the pitch dark night. Scary, mom couldn't wait to get out of there hehe

  2. kekeke. Once we were there and we noticed there weren't a lot of strays around and Hok says that's probably because they have ended up being on the dinner plate! There are Vietnamese living in Cambodia and they are infamous for being huge dog chompers.

    Oh yea Mom told me the story about where they got the water from kekekekke. Before I went on the trip Mom already warned me not to go to the kampung hehehe

  3. Mommie -- such a party pooper :]


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