Wednesday, November 7, 2012

2012, Day 312 - River crafts

Last night we decided to get an early start this morning.  We've been up by five in the morning anyway so we might as well take advantage of the relative cool and the lack of crowds at that time.  At six o'clock we met Sok, our tuk tuk driver, and asked him to take us to the Tonle Sap where all the boats are docked.

Upon arrival Sok helped us arrange for transportation out to Koh Dach, sometimes known as Silk Island.  After some initial confusion we were able to rouse one of the captains and head out onto the river.

Being so early we were able to watch families fishing from their boats as we made our way up the river.  Children waved enthusiastically and men cast and retrieved their nets as we sped by.  Given the early hour our captain met us in a sampot, the Cambodian version of a sarong, but bathed on the bow while simply locking the wheel of the ship in place.  After he dressed in a nice shirt and slacks.  I suspect they are not used to having work so early in the day.

It took almost an hour to navigate up the Tonle Sap to the Mekong and finally reach Koh Dach.  When we arrived our captain slid into the mud bank, tossed down the gang plank, and drove an anchor into the soft earth.  After disembarking we found ourselves on a winding dirt road flanked by homes on stilts and surrounded by fruit trees.  The residents smiled and children waved excitedly as we walk by.  It was rather idyllic.

After a short walk we arrived at the home of one of the island's silk weavers.  They had already started working and greeted us at the gate; mom was sitting at a loom, auntie was spinning silk, and two of the four sisters played the part of hosts.  Naysim took the lead and showed us how raw silk is spun to make thread, the difference between dyed and natural fibers, what the silk worm cocoons look like and even how the looms work.  Araceli was allowed to weave a couple lines on one loom and did a pretty good job but it drove home the degree of skill required and I am sure that setting up a loom is even harder getting all the threads lined up to create different patterns and designs.

While showing us around Naysim kept plying us with food.  First it was bananas picked from their yard, then she offered steamed rice with coconut and jack fruit, after that cooked bananas.  When she say how much we enjoyed the food provided Naysim gathered more.  We had papaya, fresh coconuts, and an absolutely amazing mango all of which came from their garden.  It was kind of them to share their food with us and given that we hadn't had time for breakfast it was greatly appreciated.

And of course we shopped like the good consumers that we are.  I really like textiles, I am fascinated by the regional differences so I looked through all they had to offer and asked a bunch of questions.  In the end we were all loaded down with our purchases and left with some new friends.  Naysim and her sister were so funny, they asked questions about our travels, about the United States, about the foods we eat and how it differs from the food here; their curiosity was great because, hopefully, they learned from us because I know we certainly learned a lot from them.

A bit poorer but happily full of fruit we headed back to our boat passing horse-drawn carts delivering ice, people on bikes, and children playing along the path.  The boat ride back to the dock was a lot shorter as we were now moving with the current rather than against it.  When we had successfully docked I called Francene and we arranged to get together for our next adventure.

The new destination, Psah Thmei - Phnom Penh's Central Market!  It is dominated by an Art Deco monolith built in 1937 during the French colonization.  There are four wings that radiate from the central dome and when it was first opened Psah Thmei was reputed to be the largest market in Asia.  While that is no longer true it is still a spectacular piece of architecture filled with stalls selling food, clothing, electronics, home goods, pretty much everything you could ever possibly need.  Fortunately we had finished our shopping earlier in the day so after a while we decided to find some lunch.

Francene suggested we go to the Foreign Correspondent Club, a Phnom Penh institution from Cambodia's colonial period.  It is right along the river and while we were finishing up our lunch we saw Mitt Romney appear on the television in the next room.  All of us stopped, left our table and went to listen to him speak.  When I realized it was a concession speech I was struck by the appropriateness of the venue.  The FCC has always been a haunt of expats in Phnom Penh, journalists, and they would have heard the news from home in the same room we were standing in.  Just another special experience and many thanks to Francene for her recommendation.

After lunch we returned to our hotel to rest but not before making plans to rejoin Francene and Tim for a little takeout dinner at their place.  With the election news still pouring in we thought it would be a good place to get caught up with events from home.  So we rested and relaxed, took a short walk after the sun set, and joined the Grewes for a nice meal and lively conversation.

So ends another wonderful day in Phnom Penh.  Tomorrow we head north to Battambang!

Canon 1D X, Canon 70-200/f2.8L IS Mark II
70mm, f4, 1/125 sec @ 200 ISO

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