Day 3 or 4–who knows, I don’t even know what day of the week it is–in Cambodia and we decided to check out the iconic floating villages. However, we were hesitant due to reports of scams, and the villagers not receiving a dime of the tour’s costs. The term ‘Scambodia’ is real. Locals will do anything they can to strip a dime from travelers. You’re never left alone here. You cannot walk down the street without 17 tuk tuk drivers asking if you’d like a ride, or eat a meal without someone coming up to you and staring at you asking for money. If I want a tuk tuk ride, I’ll ask.
Anyway, we are aware of the abundant scams and didn’t want to partake in an immoral tour that doesn’t help the village, until we stumbled across the Community First Kompong Khleang Floating Village tour supporting the Bridge of Life School. It is a non-profit organization, directed by a wonderful tour guide that grew up in the village and is now helping bring an education to the villagers and kids.
The tour began with an hour and a half bus ride to the village, where we made two pit stops along the way. The first was a sticky rice stand, where they taught us how to make and eat traditional sticky rice inside bamboo sticks. Different from Thai sticky rice, the delicious concoction consists of coconut, brown sugar, and red beans all stuffed inside bamboo, topped with banana leaves and grilled. Very dessert-esque.
Our second stop was at a bakery stand where we sampled their version of donuts (teensie little guys, no Voodoo Donuts here) fried banana chips, and some other sweet treats. We visited the back of the shop where 6 rows of 6 women worked all day to bake the treats, in a very old school environment. The devices these women used to cook appeared to be ancient. It was eye opening to witness the norm for many Cambodian women.
Once we arrived in Kompong Khleang, we drove directly into the village and interacted with some of the kids. The friendliest little kids I’ve ever met. They were obsessed with giving high fives, a couple offering a mighty wack. So cute. Then they’d run off playing having a wonderful afternoon.
Our guide brought us to the Bridge of Life School, that operates off the money stemming from the tour. The school enables the children to learn the Khmer language and mathematics, but unfortunately cannot find someone to teach English in the area. The school also houses an area for women to learn how to sew.
We then hopped on the boat motorized by a tractor engine and driven by a local boy and his probably 6 year old sister (she didn’t drive, but is the most adorable kiddo). We snaked our way up the muddy brown water–resembled Charlie and the Chocolate Factory chocolate water–passing locals coming home from clam and snail fishing, and viewing the homes along the water’s edge. The water level is so low that all the stilts (about 25 meters tall) are visible. In the rainy season, the water rises all the way to the bottom of the homes, and many live on their boats. There isn’t any solid ground. We turned the engine off in the lake where only Vietnamese live on homes floating in the middle of the lake, and watched the sunset.
It was the most eye opening experience to witness how many live in such a unique, and sadly impoverished, manner. If you find yourself in Siem Reap, I highly recommend visiting the floating villages, but only through a non-profit organization so the money goes directly toward supporting the residents.
All in all, it was a crazy day. One of the tour guides was a 22 year old Cambodian woman who is a hoot. Her favorite place on earth is Disneyland, splash mountain to be specific. :- ) She loves Ellie Goulding and Taylor Swift, and we had a nice little sing sesh in the back of the van. We shared stories of our lives and how they differ, and whoa, we grew up in polar opposite environments. Fun fact, Cambodians are not allowed to date. If you want to fall in love, you have to marry immediately and divorce is not an option. Otherwise, you just marry someone and hopefully like each other down the road. How romantic… She was blown away that Chase and I are dating and traveling.
So far, Cambodia is stunning and unique, and the most eye opening experience I’ve ever had. We’re currently housed in a fantastic hostel–Naga Angkor Hostel–and are about to take a cooking class this afternoon!!