Tonle Sap: Big fish

If the main character of Tim Burton’s film, played by Ewan McGregor, came to the biggest lake in Cambodia, he would definately catch extremely big fish or even an aligator. At least locals told me that when it is a rain season, an agressive reptile is most likely to be fished. With this optimistic note, our small boat drifted inside red waters to see how cambodian ”Venice” looks like. 

Photo by Natalia MaiborodaBut before we had had a cosy hotel with a waterpool and comfortable patio. If I didn’t know that this was one of the wildest Asian countries, I’d believe that I stay in some European town, because Siem Reap does look like a civilized place with 4-5 stars hotels all around. Even dollars are better spread here than local currency, riel. We didn’t think of any other trip apart from Angkor, but out of the blue there appeared an apportunity to see a floating village. A car took us to the end of asphalt, then two bikes brought us further. I was holding a local driver tight, as it was a bit scary to drive on dirt road with deep puddles and narrow paths.

IMG_5584Photo by Natalia MaiborodaI thought this road would take us nowhere, I was also sure that we had driven for lots of hours under warm Asian sun. But suddenly houses showed up. This was an ordinary village with poor people. But when I came closer, I noticed extremely high houses on stilts. The purpose of such a ‘skyscraper’ is adoptation to rain season – quite a typical phenomenom for South East Asia. From November to May Cambodia has a dry season, when life of local people has nothing unusual in it, apart from the absence of electricity and toilets. But when rain season comes (May-November), the way of life changes dramatically. Just imagine that water surface increases 3,5 times and the depth rises from 2 to 10 metres! Locals should pick their boats from the closets, othervise they would not be able to get out of the house. Once a year their houses and streets are covered with water.

IMG_5677Photo by Natalia MaiborodaWe came here during dry period, so the main (and the only one) street looked like a normal clay road. From time to time some kids ran closer to look at us, white strangers. They were wearing mostly duds, but despite their poor living they were absolutely pure hearted. I was touched when two kids presented us everything they had – some papers and stickers! Of course we didn’t take their generous gifts, which made them sad. Instead my boyfriend teached them to play frisbee (don’t ask where we got red flying plate) and gave it to those happy children.

Photo by Natalia MaiborodaApart from houses this village has a temple and a local school. When the water is hight, pupils come for knowledge by boats at 7 am and 1 pm depending on their schedule. No matter of season, they are eager to be educated!

Photo by Natalia MaiborodaPhoto by Natalia MaiborodaOther inhabitants do mostly the same – fish and sell what they catched. The floodplain provides a great breeding ground, so fish feeds not only nearby villages, but also the country. Therefore I noticed so many fishing nets around. But to see locals at work we had to take a boat and go a little bit further – to another part of the village situated on water.

Photo by Natalia MaiborodaLooking at red water I couldn’t understand how fish could live here! But a dirty 150 km long surface hides a lot of species. When the channel we drove on finished, I saw an impressive lake Tonle Sap, that stretched to horizon. Literary it means ”Great lake”, because when the floading period starts its area grows into 15 ooo square km (during low season the area is about 3 sq. km.).

Photo by Natalia MaiborodaPhoto by Natalia MaiborodaPhoto by Natalia MaiborodaOn our way we met another ”drivers”, houses and market made of boats. One construction surprised me the most  – longs bamboo sticks planted into the water. They explained me that in such a way locals caught fish. But the most important usage of this ”cage” is raising a special breed of fish, which can weight 20 kg!
IMG_5803We were lucky to be invited in a local house. Children met us with alertness, most probably they did not see strangers often in such a fareaway place. What I noticed were primitive beds made of fabrics and placed on the floor. Some dirty old cloth hang on wooden walls together with jeans. In the corner stood an old TV. Later I was told that electrical equipments would work from car batteries. Toilets here are also primitive and you can guess what flows down to the lake, which is considered to be the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia and is UNESCO World Heritage site. Even if locals don’t know what Venice is and where it is situated, they have their own Venice. Not as romantic as Italian one, but more extraordinary for sure. 
Photo by Natalia MaiborodaPhoto by Natalia Maiboroda
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