Saturday, May 12, 2012

Tonle Sap Great Lake, Cambodia

Stepping out of our air-conditioned van that had just travelled half-way on gravel roads to the boat landing, we knew we were in for an adventure, but had no idea what was coming next. To our luck, there was a snack shop selling Singha beer, so we loaded a bag for the 1 1/2 hour boat trip to the floating village on the Tonle Sap Great Lake.

Walking down a steep, 50-yard slope, with two small children in tow, all I could afford to focus on were the wooden cattle grates nailed to the ramp below my feet to keep from sliding into the muddy waters.  Finally reaching the bottom of the medieval ramp, only losing balance a couple times, my eyes are able to rise from the platform up to a mound of bobbing junk boats pulled together at one small point - the floating dock. 

I hear our guide say, "That boat, back there. The yellow one." His arm extended pointing to a yellow junk boat bobbing 8 rows back. Trying not to look at Kevin, our Traveling Business Man, for fear he would pull me back up the grated ramp, back into the van and lock the doors, I jump out onto the first bobbing boat, hugging Riley as tight as possible and leap our way back to the distant yellow boat. 

Happy he made it to our boat without falling into the muddy water.

The boat has the stability similar to a narrow canoe, so I quickly take a seat and see our Traveling Business man leaping his way across the boats, holding Little Miss M as tightly as he can.  Seated, he quickly cracks open his beer, as the boat backs away from the mound and starts puttin' down the murky channel. 

Our captain

A few moments later, our captains is beeping his horn and flailing his arms at an oncoming junk boat. It is coming straight at us.  Our captain slows down a bit, as the oncoming boat flies by within a couple hairs of ours.  Then, it happens.

Our tippy little junk boat, crashes to a sudden halt and the boat jolts to the side, throwing us all to the left.  I hear our Traveling Business man to my right, words unrepeatable, clenching the child in arms.  Then, I hear him come up with our escape route and meeting point after the children have both been rescued. As, the captain calmly apologises and walks to the back of the boat to clear the propeller of the mud we are stuck in.

Auntie Megan throws another Singha to Kevin. He is most definitely going to need a few more of those very soon!

Released from the mud, our little yellow junk boat continues down the channel toward the Tonle Sap, the life blood of Cambodia.  This massive lake provides 75% of the fish consumed in Cambodia.  It is a combined lake and river system and known to be the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. 

The flow of this body of water changes twice a year.  During the dry season (November to May) the water drains into the Mekong River.  During the monsoon season, starting in June, the water reverses its flow, pushes water up from the Mekong forming a massive lake, flooding nearby fields and villages.  However, this floodplain provides a great breeding ground for fish. 

Making this lake one of the most productive fishing lakes in the world and is home to the Giant Catfish.

Local fishermen throw nets out to trap the fish and pull them in.

Bamboo trees tied to the bottom of the homes keep them afloat.

Floating village church in the background.

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