Cambodia Part III: Tonle Sap, War Museum and Eating Fried Bugs!

Back again for Round 3 of Cambodia photos and updates! (Click here to read part 2!)

I’m sorry I haven’t been updating as regularly, but as you all know, I’ve started with my new job as a writer somewhere (I won’t say where for safety purposes haha) so things have been a little busy on my end. But fear not for I vow to always make time and space for this blog so I’ll try to update as regularly as I go along. Plus I have the privilege of working from home so I don’t really have an excuse for not updating since I do have a lot of free time on my hands when I’m not out covering events or writing my weekly quota of articles =D

So yes back to Cambodia! One of the days, we decided to hit Tonle Sap lake and see what the fuss is about the place. The Ninja Rabbit’s dad who loves Cambodia (from having done a business deal or two here before previously) says it’s a must-visit place and the receptionist at the hotel highly recommended it too, so we figured why not.

We were so super glad we did.

Hehe as usual, Alfred came along too!

It was as sweltering a day as the other days, but we got a full night’s sleep the night before so all lethargy and exhaustion was kept well at bay. The Tonle Sap lake is about a 20-minute Tuk Tuk ride away from the centre of Siem Reap so this time we really got to do some real sight-seeing. Under normal circumstances, everything is placed within very close vicinity so we’re on the Tuk Tuk 10-15 minutes max. The trip to the lake was handsdown the longest time we got to spend on the back of the little Tuk Tuk, puttering away by villages and straw-hut houses.

I would like to say it was a a very scenic ride, but truth is, it’s the complete opposite of what I’d call remotely beautiful. The further away from the city centre we travelled, the poorer the people got, so the starker the evidence of poverty that greeted us on our ride.

Some of these houses were mere wooden planks with the occasional metal sheet, held together by flimsy wire and stuck to balance on rickety stilts. Up to an entire family of 6 can live in one square of these things, with small children that look to be no more than 5 years old running in and out of the place carefreely. I wouldn’t have dared move an inch if I was in there, for fear of the structure collapsing!

I don’t think they are supplied with conveniences such as electricity or clean pipe water even. A lot of the people still do their washing, cooking, even bathing in the stream that runs beneath the houses, the same one that feeds into the Tonle Sap lake. Unfortunately, it is also the same place they do their “business”, if you know what I mean. Surely, the government can do something to help these people =(

I soon learned why the houses are built on stilts as such. During the wet seasons (it was the dry season when we were there) the Tonle Sap lake would overflow and the water would spill to collect in and around its swamps, namely this area the houses are built on. To counter the rising tides of the wet season, they’ve built their houses higher to escape the floods. Those who can afford it live in houses that have done away with the stilts altogether and their homes are engineered as such that they can float like a boat on water. Talk about amphibian living lol.

After a very difficult-to-digest 20 minutes, we finally arrived at the port that leads to the canal that will bring us to the Tonle Sap.

Major construction was going to build a sort of harbour from which boats can safely sail and dock so the water was brown and muddy. Our guide also mentioned that because it was the dry season, the canal is only about a few metres deep now, so we’re seeing more of the muddy sendimentation than the clear blue freshwater the place is filled with during the wet season. What a shame it was to come during the wrong time of year!

Makeshift boats like these were aplenty for hire to take tourists out to the lake. I say makeshift because these are actually just normal fishing boats — the tourguides who work the scene have cleverly taken apart a car’s engine and installed it onto the boat to motorize it. Innovation at its finest, eh?

The Ninja Rabbit knocked his head several times while climbing on board because he was too tall hahahaha. Meet our boat-driver and tourguide for the day! The guy on the right speaks the most fluent English I’ve ever heard a Khmer speak, making our tour a true delight. He explained to us every tiny detail that we needed to know about the lake and the people who make it their life source.

It took a while for me to register that this was all freshwater we were floating on. Tonle Sap literally translates to mean Large Freshwater River in Khmer, or more accurately as the locals would say, Great Lake. It is the largest freshwater lake in all of South East Asia.

Perhaps it’s me having grown up on an island, but whenever I see big bodies of water, I automatically assume it is salted sea water. There was no funny sea smell throughout our ride, and our hair and skin did not get sticky at all from the 40 minute ride down the canal to reach Tonle Sap. I hated the stickiness so much when we were in Perhentian!

The narrow canal was like a road if we were traveling on ground. Boats drive (?) on the right hand side and make way for others like you would in traffic. Other boats would occasionally overtake us if we’re going too slow and vice versa. People go about their daily routine like they would normally do on land, except everything here is on water.

Taxi boats (like our schoolbuses) carry schoolchildren to and from school. Yes, even their school floats on water, something you’ll get to see later. We actually got to visit a floating school, a floating market, a floating church, even a floating convenient store the likes of 7-11!

People still fish in the canal as a way of life. Their catch of the day isn’t for sale either — whatever they catch, they’d have for dinner. It perplexes me that they still live so simply in today’s day and age. What if there was a monsoon rain and they couldn’t go out to fish? Does that mean they don’t get to eat then? =(

They were more than happy to be photographed as well, some even waving and saying hello to us as we rode by on the boat. Our guide says initiatives have been taken by the government to relocate these fisher families so that they may earn an easier way of living, but most of them are reluctant to leave the lake. It is becoming a rising problem because accidents do happen on these fishing trips that leave a lot of their young children orphaned. Also, the matter of hygiene of the water is another matter to worry about. These people are drinking and cooking with the water into which they throw their wastes. A lot waits to be done to help them improve their quality of life.

After approximately half an hour, we finally arrived at the famous Floating Village of Tonle Sap.

Have you ever seen the movie “Water World” Starring Kevin Costner? Life here was exactly like that! They live on these little floating platforms that pass off as various facilities — homes, schools, grocery stores, churches, even a basketball court! — and hop from one boat to another like we’d walk down the street to get a drink.

This building was like their police station, courts, even the occasional post office should someone need to send something, all rolled into one giant floating boat. Notice the ark-like foundation? When the water level rises, it would float above waters accordingly.

Their local 7-11, boys and girls. Cool eh?? If I’m not mistaken, they serve small hawker-style food here too.It would seem from the telephone number displayed on the front, they have telephone services as well. Unless it’s cellular I can’t imagine how they could have rigged up a landline! Lol. These people are genius I tell you!

This is how an average family home looks like on the lake. They sleep in small spaces like this with close to no electrical or clean water conveniences. I’ve seen young children squatting on the edge and scooping water into their mouths for drinking. The older few who ca swim jump in freely to cool themselves off in the immense heat. Your guess is as good as mine where they go to relieve themselves… Heartbreaking, isn’t it?

We couldn’t go too near the villages because the lake was too shallow now and our engine propellers might get caught in the weeds and what not growing just beneath the surface. During high tide however, tourists can actually weave through the small alleyways of the village in small sampans and sometimes, the villagers would even invite them into their homes.

A vast majority of people still live and depend on the lake profusely for a living. Even our tourguides grew up on this lake as children, boasting that he knows every nook and cranny of the place and would be able to tell us anything we’d like to know about it. They seemed almost proud to have been children of Tonle Sap, constantly making it clear how without this vast pool of water, they’d be nothing and no one. I couldn’t help but smile everytime I hear him speak of his home so fondly.

Beautiful isn’t it? The lake stretches out so far and wide it was very hard to believe we weren’t at sea. There’s no sight of shore in any direction you look, only more clear blue skies and a horizon that seems to melt right into heaven.

Tell me, does this look like a lake to you?? Lakes aren’t supposed to look like this! Last I checked, only oceans and seas looked like this xD

This was how a lot of them travel to the parts of the lake that extends a little further from the central village. They have young children sleeping in hammocks under that little makeshift roof. Some might come up to you to ask for money, but our guide said to not give them anything because then it encourages further begging.

We got the chance to pop by a Catholic missionary school. It was the only one children on the lake can go to for some sort of education. Even then, their syllabus isn’t as thorough as you’d expect. They’d usually only receive basic math and writing lessons, and once they reach middle school age, are sent to vocational schools where they learn either traditional dance and massage for the girls, or cooking and mechanical skills for the boys. A big problem they face is the lack of teachers to give them a proper education. Tremendously understaffed, the school does what it can to help equip these young children, half of them probably orphaned, for a better adult life.

I didn’t take many photos because it didn’t feel right, ogling at these kids as if they were some kind of exhibition put on show. They were human beings who deserve equal respect and dignity like the rest of us. We got a small tour of the place and got to witness what a normal day was like in the school. I tried to be as discreet as possible and snuck only a shot or two from outside the classroom.

This little girl was the cutest thing ever.

She followed me up and down the boat and everywhere I went, and actually asked to have her photo taken, so I obliged. I couldn’t say no to a darling like that! You’ll notice most of them have hair in this beautiful shade of ash brown. It’s because they’re in the sun so much that the UV rays have effectively lightened their tresses.

The boat was home to other forms of life too, like this beautiful German Shepherd mama and her little pup! I wanted to pet the little puppy so much but the guide said to watch out for the mother haha. Its eyes weren’t even open yet and it was just whining all the time for his mama, whilst crawling around blindly. Too cute!

On the way back, the Ninja Rabbit got the chance to drive the boat back up the canal to the port haha. It was exactly like driving a car because after all, everything was taken from a car, so he warmed up the mechanics of it in no time. Not sure if the driver was just being nice, but he kept saying the Ninja Rabbit did a tremendously good job, which made him feel all self-important hahaha.

Spot the little piggies taking a nap in the shade of the boats!! =D

Right after lunch we headed straight for the War Museum because we wanted to waste no time in maximising our day.

It was a creepy, hair-raising experience, seeing all the old-time war machines that once took so many hundreds, maybe even thousands, of lives.

During the Khmer Rouge occupation in Cambodia, an estimated 3 million lives were lost under their ruling. The Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot, wanted to turn Siem Reap, following that, the whole of Cambodia into a self-sustaining communist country, one cut off from the economy of the world. He made villagers and city-dwellers in SIem Reap alike relocate to the outskirts of the country to do agriculture, believing that once they grew their own food, their need not rely on any more outside influences. They can be their own supreme race that did not need anyone else. But there was a flaw in his plan. He chose to also cut off modern medicine aids and other basic necessities, which caused a lot of deaths from easily curable diseases, like Malaria. People were dying left, right and centre from starvation, diseases and many other uncalled for reasons. So many innocent lives were lost because of his twisted ideology.

The weapons housed in this museum are those actually used in the war against the Khmer Rouge when the likes of Vietnam and some local rebels tried to free Cambodia from the tyrants.

I felt a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach just thinking about how mankind can create such machines to kill another human being.

Ah-Mi got bored waiting outside and decided to join us in the museum haha. He and the Ninja Rabbit had quite a ball of a time picking up the guns and playing pretend war.

Cambodia’s national average age group is only about 26 years today. 3/4 of its people do not remember the war because they were born after it has all subsided. The majority of their older generation met their demise during the war. There aren’t many old folks around to reminisce about those dark days either because most of them were killed in the war or have died of natural causes by now. We asked Ah-Mi if he knew anything about the Khmer Rouge occupation, but all he could tell us were the things he learned from hearsay, which wasn’t anymore than we knew. Apparently, they don’t even teach their schoolchildren about what happened back then in school.

Did you know an AK-47 is super heavy to carry?? It’s my favourite weapon to use in Left4Dead so I had to take a picture with it hehe. What I wasn’t expecting was that it would be so heavy! I can’t imagine running for my life with it!

RPGs!!! I wonder when it came down to it, how difficult would it be to pull the trigger and take someone’s life? Being at such a morbid place brought up some very morbid thoughts in my mind.

Empty landmine shells were strewn everywhere. It made me shudder thinking how many limbs these have robbed of innocent people walking to and fro their very own homes.

There was also a photowall filled with pictures from back in the day. Seeing the small snippets of the horror back then made me sick.

There was so much anguish, so much distress and suffering in each and very photo. These child soldiers — which person in their right mind, would give a kid no more than 8 years old a rifle gun and send him out to war? Out to kill other little kids just like him?

I can just imagine how scared they must have felt, hugging onto that rifle and trying their best to keep their helmets that’s too big for them on, while people are being shot down or blown up all around them. In other places, they’ll have their mummies running to scoop them up in her arms and hold them until their fears melted away. Here, it was either they retaliated bullet for bullet, or they pay with their lives T_T

Nearby they have a mortuary tomb of sorts built in memory of all those who lost their lives in the war. The majority of the killing were done in the Killing Fields in Pnom Penh, not here. Apparently even the manliest of men break down in tears when they see the horrors stored within the walls of the chambers within the Killing Fields. It has remained untouched since the Khmer Rouge lost the war and were evacuated. Everything in there is as it was 30-40 years ago. Here in Siem Reap they have but a small shrine to commemorate those lost lives. One day, I will go to Pnom Penh and take a look for myself what lies there.

Even though this was only a small fraction of the true horrors left behind by the Khmer Rouge, it was still a very haunting sight. Some of the skulls had bullet holes and other telltale signs of how they came to an end. The place was just filled with sadness and nothing else.

Deeply moved by all that we saw, we had no appetite for dinner. Ah-Mi seemed unaffected by it all for some reason. To cheer ourselves up, we decided to try something that we had said we wanted to do from Day One.

We scoured town for a place that we might get fried locusts!

At night, many places sell them for $1 a can full. The locals love it and eat them accompanied with beer like how we would eat peanuts.

We couldn’t find fried locusts because they weren’t in season (it seems like we’re here at the wrong time for everything doesn’t it lol, first the Tonle Sap lake, now locusts!) , but we found a lot of fried crickets! A local favourite also includes fried water cockroaches but no way am I touching that haha. Crickets alone I can handle.

How bad ass does that grandma look in the background haha. She’s just taking a swig from her can of beer, no biggie.

It was like an episode of Fear Factor. It doesn’t look very intimidating at first but when the time comes for you to put it in your mouth, it just becomes suddenly 10X scarier than before. All the while I’m prepping myself for it, the only thing that kept running through my mind was that this was my fish’s food haha. My Daddy used to rear a Red Arowana named Bob and he fed it crickets as its main diet staple. I can’t believe I’ll be eating fish food hahaha.

The Ninja Rabbit was all geared up for it so he ate one without so much as a wince. I wasn’t so sure. Ah-Mi laughed at me for being scared and kept saying it’s really delicious. Refusing to back out of this, otherwise I’m never gonna hear the end of it from the Ninja Rabbit, I took a deep breath and popped it into my mouth.

It tasted like salted caramel popcorn. Seriously!

It was deep fried and lightly salted. Its texture was very much like that of popcorn — light, crispy and slightly chewy. One thing’s or sure, it tastes NOTHING like chicken.

Yummy! ;)

Fried creepy crawlies aren’t so bad I suppose. Then again I was just lucky we couldn’t find fried Tarantulas =/ I’m really not sure if I’d dare eat a spider hahaha.

That’s it for Part 3 of our Cambodian adventure!!

Be back soon for the 4th and last part, please don’t bore of me and abandon me yet!

Till then, have a great rest of the week, everyone! The weekend is nearly here, hang in there! =D

(Click here to read Part 4)

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