Saturday, November 10, 2012

Cambodia, Part 3

Day 7 (Fri)

Another amazing day in Cambodia! Today we had another early start, getting picked up around 5:30 am for our day to Tonle Sap lake to do some birding. There were two older British couples with us who were great to talk to along the way, especially since they had just come from Laos so we could pick their brains on what we should do when we are there.

We took a van to the port and then road on a small motor boat for about an hour or so to one of the floating villages in the lake. Tonle Sap lake is pretty spectacular in that it changes size from the dry season to the wet season, from 2,500km2 to 12,500km2. During the rainy season all of the water flowing from the Mekong River going to the South China Sea backs up and flows into the Tonle Sap Lake. But during the dry season the water flows back out, leaving more land exposed. The trees that grow in the Lake are submerged during the rainy season, shedding their leaves to reduce air exchange, and then leafing again when they make it back out into sunlight during the dry season. Pretty cool actually.

Caught a great sunrise on the way.
setting out on our boat ride
We are at the end of the rainy season now so the lake is still at it's largest. SOO many birds come back as the lake is full. Right now there are a lot of cormorants, herons and pelicans (the divers and swimmers), and later in the season as the water flows out of the lake, the storks will also come (the waders). So sadly we didn't see any storks but we are glad we got to get pictures of them at the zoo outside Phnom Penh (especially the Black Necked Stork, which is extremely endangered and rare).

Like the birds, the people also migrate with the water. They live in floating houses and follow the water as it leaves for dry season. Now that the lake is full they are all living in the center where we went to see the birds. What a life! To follow the lake (and fishes) as the seasons change!

On the look out for birds!
We had an excellent time birding from the boat, though I did wish we were able to paddle as the noise from the boat engine scared away the birds as we approached them. But we were able to get some good views and pictures of the White Spotted Pelican, Asian Open Bill, herons, egrets, a kingfisher, and especially the cormorants as they are nesting now.

We stopped for lunch at a floating restaurant where we ate some fantastic Khmer soup, noodles, fried fish and rice, with fresh pineapple for dessert. There was also a small store next door where the local women weave a water plant, called water hyacinth, into different products, like bowls, hats and hammocks. The water hyacinth is an invasive species that made it here to Cambodia many years ago. It became a nuisance as it can poison some of the local fauna and impedes the floating villages when they are moving down river. But it so happen that there was local knowledge of weaving it so they woman took advantage of this invasive species and now are able to make a living from weaving it.

It was a really great day spending time on the boat in the lake watching for animals and enjoying the great outdoors. But after two days in the sun I think we will be taking it easy tomorrow and resting before heading back to the temples for a second day.

Day 8 (Sat)

Today was a day of rest for us, after the last two very active days in the sun. We enjoyed some shakes at the Blue Pumpkin (excellent ice cream and yogurt!) and then went shopping at the old market. I remember the shopping in Thailand was pretty good, but I have to say that when I walk through the markets in Siem Reap, I WANT EVERYTHING! Of course the vendors always give you a high price to start with, but unlike in Vietnam, they will bargain with you. If you are really serious about getting a good price, you can play hardball. For instance, Linds bought a dress from a vendor for $5. At a different vendor I found a dress that I liked and she wanted $15 for it, so I started bargaining her down. She got to around $6 or $8 and wouldn't budge... that is until I started to walk away saying I would just go back to the other vendor for a $5 dress. Then she let me have the dress for $5. Hell yeah.

The rest of the day we just hung around the hostel, got some laundry done and rested. Linds started not feeling well, but hopefully she will feel better by tomorrow for another day around the Angkor temples.

Day 9 (Sun)

So Linds still isn't feeling 100%. We decided she should just rest today to make sure she is OK for tomorrow since we plan on leaving Siem Reap. We both kind of want a beach day so we are changing our plans a bit and before we head to Laos we will cross into Thailand and head to one of the beaches in the south for a day or two.

So while Linds stayed behind to rest and recoup  I rented a bike and headed to Angkor. I reallythink renting bicycle is the way to get around Siem Reap and Angkor. Most people end up renting tuk-tuk drivers but they always try to overcharge you and I have to say I really enjoy riding through the Angkor park on a bike. And besides the obvious benefit of being green, both for you and the environment, at $1 a day, it's by far the cheapest way to go. It is also nice when you can bypass the car and tuk-tuks when they get bottle-necked up at narrow roads or bridges and at the ticket booth. The ride is all flat, so it's pretty easy, but during the day it can get pretty hot. My hostel is located in the southern part of town (Angkor lies just north of town), and the ride takes me no more than 30 min (and that is including going through the ticket center). I always  make sure I take plenty of water and sunscreen though, since we are closer to the equator and the day gets hot.

So I headed to Angkor on my own this time and explored the Bayon and the temples around it. Bayon is pretty neat in that is has over 100 carved faces that stare at you from every angle!

I enjoyed the morning at Angkor and was pretty done by the afternoon time. So I biked back to check on Linds and then went up to the hostel bar for a refreshing shake. Also one of my PC friends is getting into town today so I will try to meet up with her later (HI Sarah!). Today will end our Cambodia part of the trip. It has been an amazing week here seeing all that Cambodia has to offer, which is completely exceeded my expectations. From the nice Khmer people to the amazing temples, ruins, shopping and food, Cambodia is a country that I think everyone should make an effort to visit!

So tomorrow we will take an early bus to the border and cross into Thailand. Our plan is to head to Koh Chang, which is a small island off the southern coast and from the pictures on the internet, looks like paradise. Beach here we come!


to be continued..

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