We headed to the Old Market in Siem Reap after having our complimentary drink. It was a typical tourist haunt, rows and rows of little shoplots selling the odd trinket and souvenier to gullible tourists. The guide book says that you have to always haggle when buying stuff here, often having to start the bargain from half the price offered. We did some browsing, I ended up buying some magnets for my friends and family at home.
As the midday sun reached it's peak, we headed back to the hotel. It was getting unbearably hot and the constant flying dust had somewhat caked itself against my sweaty skin. We checked into the hotel shortly after, paying USD14 for two nights. A VERY cheap bargain.
I took a light shower, heading down to the cafe after that and having lunch with the gang. After that commenced the tour to the first place we will be visiting in Cambodia; the Tonle Sap lake.
If I could recall what my geography teacher had taught me a long, long time ago, Tonle Sap is the single largest fresh water lake in Southeast Asia. It is fed by the Mekong river which flows from the mountains in Laos down into Cambodia before ending at the Mekong delta in Vietnam. Tonle Sap is formed because the volume of water flowing into sea was too much for the small delta to cope thus, a significant amount of backflow is created, coalescing into the low lands of northern Cambodia.
It took us a while for our 'tuk-tuk' to reach the jetty where we will be taking our boat over to the floating village at the center of Tonle Sap lake. Along the way, we did stop for a while to take photos under the sweltering sun.
When we reached the jetty, I was surprised to see how much the lake had dried up. I guess the waters had receded a good 10 meters to it's current level since the end of the rainy season. But of more immediate concern was the payment to rent the boat.
A man claiming to monopolize the boat services told us that we had to pay USD12/person. We tried to haggle but the man wasn't in the mood to bargain. In the end we had no choice but to agree with his price before we went down to edge of the jetty to mount our boat.
It was a pleasant surprise to find out that our 'guide' could speak malay. (Gosh! I must be feeling homesick already!) He took us to the floating 'village' consisting of mostly poor people living in boats in the middle of the lake. He claims that they are mostly Vietnamese and that they are sort of stateless here. The people subsist on mainly fishing and craftmaking, bartering their wares to the people living on the lake's shores.
A ferry service also operates from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, costing USD35/trip. We saw the ferry boat floating about during our trip to the lake. It looked really impressive. The brochure advertising the trip says that a lunch buffet is also served onboard and the total travel time to the capital city will take 6 hours. We have however, decided to take the bus later on the capital. Compared to the extravagant price charged for the boat ride, the bumpy bus ride to the capital will cost USD6/person.
We were brought aboard a floating restaurant, kinda deserted since we have arrived during the 'low' travel season. There were some crocodiles kept in the lower decks, the guide telling us that their hides will be used to make bags and such. There was a souvenier store onboard as well but since none of their wares are a price tag and we don't really know the 'market' yet, we chose not to buy anything. We did take a few pictures on the highest point of the floating restaurant which offered a good view of the village.
Before we head back to shore, we stopped by at a floating school where we were introduced to a teacher. A few students were playing onboard when we entered their classroom but they paid us no heed. We were asked to offer donations to the teacher to buy school books and stationeries. I offered USD5.
Back in Siem Reap, we went to the Old Market, a bargain hunter's paradise. Here, I found out that you are expected to haggle for the best price as again there are no price tags shown on the wares sold here and that initial prices offered are ALWAYS overinflated. Of course, there is this conspicuous 'foreigner's' pricing, so bargain hard to get the lowest these people can offer. I got myself a number of Angkor Wat themed magnets for USD0.30 each. The rest got T-shirts, more magnets and other knicks and knacks.
Finally, we headed back to the hotel, where internet is freely available 24 hours a day. Here I stopped for a while to check my email and update my facebook. A quick bath later, we went downtown to one of the restaurants, which offers Khmer food for prices between USD1-USD4. Not surprisingly, we found out that the food presented to us doesn't really look anything at all like the food shown in their menus. :p
The night ended a compulsory Cambodian massage at one of the many parlours in Siem Reap town. Nothing hanky panky... all professional of course. :) The average price for a massage is USD6.After that is another session on the internet in which I found myself partially writing a portion of this blog before going to sleep and awaiting the next day's adventure!