Friday, December 31, 2010

Siem Reap- Tonle Sap, Silk Farm and Apsara Dance

Angkor is a world heritage. December 2010, we spent 5 days in Siem Reap, Cambodia, barely enough to take a glance over a few of the many ancient archaeological sites, all with great names begin with “Preah”, “Wat”, “Phnom”, and “Ta”. All of them are edifices from the ancient civilization, bearing the glory and wisdom from the past. Siem Reap means "Siamist defeated", marked the venue of where the incident occurred long time ago.

The mighty gate of Angkor Thom built hundreds of years ago.

A brief itinerary of our tour- from Kuala Lumpur, we took 6:45 am flight to Siem Reap. We reached there at 8:40 am Malaysian time, 7:40 am at local Siem Reap. That’s early. Burdened with tiredness, we chose a loose schedule. We visited Tonle Sap (lake), the silk farm, and buffet dinner with cultural dance (Apsara was one of the them) for the first day.

Second day, we departed early, around 5:30 am to Angkor Wat to catch the sunrise at the temple. Then, we visited Bayon, lunched beside Sras Srang, and went back to the hotel in exhaustion. We tried our best to go extra miles, but the first day trip had tolled our energy more than what we had expected.

Third day, rejuvenated by a long overnight sleep, we started our marathon at 9 am. The first stop, Phnom Bakheng. Then, we entered Angkor Thom through South Gate. Within Angkor Thom, we visited Elephant Terrace, Baphuon, Terrace of the Leper King, The Royal Palace, and took a glance on Prasat Suor Prat and Khleang. We went north for Preah Khan, and then, east for Ta Keo and Ta Prohm. We took our late lunch at the restaurant beside Sras Srang before our move to Ta Prohm. Late evening, we cruised through the night market and Pub Streets in Siem Reap.

Heavily scheduled third day was followed by relaxing fourth. We started our hunting for souvenirs at Central Market, around 9:30 am. Then, we enjoyed a relaxing lunch full with coconuts and local delicacies. A tour around Siem Reap town by foot was not laboring at all. A walk along National Road from Central Market to Lucky Mall took us 10 minutes, while from Lucky Mall to Royal Park just took us another ten.

Last day, we cannot do much as our flight depart early at 8:35 am, Siem Reap time. If you have the chance to visit Siem Reap, make sure that you prepare extra USD 25 per person for the service fee at the airport. We have to clear the fee before we can proceed to the departure hall. The fee is not included in airport tax.

Floating village of Tonle Sap. Boats are the sole transports that connect the villagers with the mainland.

Tonle Sap, the largest fresh water lake in SEA, is a major source of food and water to the people living at surrounding area for more than a thousand years. From Siem Reap to the jetty of Siem Reap River, 20 minutes. From there, we took a boat trip. We were lucky as our driver recommended us a simple and cheap trip, for USD 15 per person. Some of the trips have add-ons, such as watching sunset, buffet dinner, free flow of drinks, so on and so forth that end up with USD 35 per person.

The boat trip down the river to floating village at Chong Khneas for 2 solid hours offers great experience like no other places. We could felt the greatness of Tonle Sap with borderless water, blended with swamp, large patches of lotus, and the best part of it, picturesque floating village. The floating village promises unique experience to all new visitors. That was the first time for us to see a village that really floats on water, with houses, schools, restaurants, shops etc. The whole village touches no ground but water, and the nearest road connection, few kilometers away.

Motor boats are used to bring tourists from the jetty to the floating village (left). Our photo on Siem Reap River, with several other boats going in opposite direction.

Lotus field and swampy forest can be seen along the way.

Family photo on a platform of a floating shop at Tonle Sap.

Floating village of Chong Khneas is a simple community. We can see village school (upper left), fish processing workshop (upper right), police station (on tow, lower right), and grocery shop (lower left). There are some souvenir shops and dinning restaurants for tourists too (not shown in photo).

The floating village of Chong Khneas is built along the estuary of Siem Reap River into Tonle Sap. Village folks simply row anything than can float (upper and lower right). Can you imagine how a crocodile farm look like on a floating village? Take a look at Chong Khneas and you will know (lower left).

According to our tour guide, money is not crucial for many of the residents of the lake. They live by their catch. For the rice, they barter. We really feel that they are a part of the ecosystem, and with them, the balance persists. Tourism brought development to their place, but the fortune just stroke a few of the riches and famous. International societies start building schools and educate the locals, with the hope that education eliminates poverty.

Another scene on floating village.

The Artisan Silk Farm was not as fascinating as the floating village of Tonle Sap. We decided to visit the farm in the middle of exhaustion, barely because we had around 2 hours to spare before we could check in to our hotel (we came back from Tonle Sap at 1 pm, while the check in time was 3 pm). According to LS's parents, the silk farm is considered small if we compare it with those in China. Anyway, we were glad to hear that the farm takes social responsibility to train the locals to produce silk in their own village with traditional equipments.

Our photos with silk worms in different stages of life- larvae (right) and pupa (right).

The training center of Artisan Silk Farm.

The silk farm is nicely landscaped. After the visit, we were invited to visit their gallery of work, with very high quality of hand made silk products displayed, with fair price.

According to a local, fake silk is everywhere in Cambodia. A reputable dealer and reasonable pricing guarantee the quality. Mom bought a really nice silk purse with USD 25.

At night, arranged by our tour guide, we took our buffet dinner at Mondial Restaurant complemented with traditional dances, including the Apsara Dance. Apsara or bidadari is a name to beautiful, youthful and elegant ladies, or in English, celestial nymph. Apsara Dance was presented only to the king during the age of Khmer Empire. But, now, it is a heritage for everyone.

Apsara Dance is graceful, as in slow motion, and most of the time, the dancer stands with one leg, with the another, bends to the back. The dance is accompanied with live unplugged traditional musics.

The dancer is nicely dressed. In fact, we took a lot of photos during that night. But, unfamiliar to the system for new digital camera, we lost most of the photos of the night during the transfer of data to laptop (luckily not all the Siem Reap photos).

Besides Apsara Dance, other folk dances and ethnics dances were performed as well. The buffet starts at 6:30 pm while the performance starts at 7:30 pm and lasts for an hour. The buffet dinner at Mondial costed us USD 12 per person.

We reached our hotel around 10 pm. Our trip continued early the next morning to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat.

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