One of the main attractions in Siem Reap, other than Angkor Wat, is a boat ride through the Flooded Forest and stilted village of Kompong Pluk. Located on the banks of a river that leads into a lake, the entire forest is flooded annually by the monsoon rains to the point where only the tops of the trees are visible. All houses in the village are built on high stilts that protect them from the rising waters.
Depending on the time of year there are two possible ways to get to the tour boat. During the monsoon season the water is high enough that a tuk tuk can drop tourists off at the side of the river where the boat waits. If it is dry season the river begins much further back. As such, the tuk tuk drops people off in a small town before transferring to the back of a motorcycle to drive down a bumpy dirt road to where the river is high enough for the boat to pick up passengers.
Our experience was neither of these, but we’ll get to that in a minute. Originally we wanted to do something else that day, but the hard sell of our driver/guide convinced us that this three hour tour was the way to go. So we hopped into his tuk tuk and after a brief stop for tire air and gas (bought from a shack on the side of the road and poured from a whiskey bottle) we were on our way.
A short while later while driving down a very rural road we heard the unmistakable sound of a flat tire and had to stop again, this time in front of someone’s house that happened to have an air pump. We sat there for nearly a half hour while they tried everything to repair the tube before eventually replacing it. While waiting, I tried my hardest to befriend a dozen curious but shy local children by making faces, playing peek-a-boo and more. In the end, I won them over with high-fives and by the time we left they were all smiling and waving and high-fiving each other.
Back on track, despite nonstop rain over the past few days, the monsoon season was still young enough that we had drive over the dirt road to reach the far away boat dock. So, at our next stop Carrie and I hopped onto the backs of two separate motorcycles driven by our guide and his younger brother and headed out. The tuk tuk remained behind for yet another tire repair.
|Motorbiking through mud and pool-sized puddles|
While there were a few puddles in the dirt road, there was enough space for the bikes to maneuver around them with little effort…at least in the beginning. As the drive continued the puddles became more frequent and the dirt road got more muddy. One puddle was actually more of a pool and, with no way to get around it, we drove through water at least two feet deep that engulfed half of the motorcycle and reached my shins.
By the time we passed the pool puddle the road was entirely mud. Still, our drivers pressed on: slipping and sliding the whole time. The bikes were all over the road and, despite his best efforts, my bike slid out and fell four times. Fortunately, falling off a bike in a mud pit is more funny than painful so it really wasn’t bad. As for Carrie, I guess the younger brother was a better driver because he didn’t fall once.
Not wanting to turn around, we kept going until a local man told our drivers that the road got even worse up ahead and we could not possibly make it on the bikes. So, with no other choice, we took off our flip flops and began to walk the final mile barefoot.
At first the walk was no problem; I even had fun sloshing around in the mud. However, shortly after we began walking the road dried up and became hot and hard. Making matters worse were the tire tracks all over the road that had hardened and become razor sharp. Needless to say, it went from a fun walk to a painful one very quickly.
Laughing at the absurdity of our tour was the only way I made it through the experience, but finally, about 30 minutes after we got off the bikes, we arrived at the dock. Here, our driver handed us off to the boat captain (a 12 year old boy) and the pilot (his 10 year old younger brother).
The boat tour itself was outstanding, even if the water level only flooded the trees half way up. I went nuts taking photos of the village on stilts, which was on a scale the likes of which I have never seen before. The entire village is based around the river that floods every year and boats are the only way to get from one side to the other.
Sadly, the villagers have tourism down to a science. At one point, a woman jumped onto our boat and got me to buy 10 notebooks to donate to the school children. When she got off there were four other women waiting to do the same thing who were disappointed to find that she had beaten them to the punch.
After spending a few minutes in the middle of a lake we were dropped off in the actual village for a walk/tour. How surprised were we to find a Buddhist celebration going on and a parade winding it’s way thorough the street. Townsfolk were all dressed up in their Sunday best, music and speaking blasted from a loudspeaker and everyone had a big smile.
All around, people hoisted up money trees and other gifts for a group of monks about to enter a three month period of silence and isolation. We followed the parade to a temple atop a hill where the monks sat accepting the donations while villagers banged ceremonial drums as loud and hard as possible. The scene was amazing and the people were super friendly, though it was very awkward when I had to give out the books.
Originally, I thought we were going to walk into a classroom and just hand the teacher a stack of notebooks. However, due to the celebration the kids were all in the street. So, at the urging of the girl who sold me the notebooks, I stood there and handed them. One by one, kids came up, accepted the books, bowed their heads and said thanks. The whole thing seemed incredibly fake and scripted and I was so glad when I got rid of the last book because it was also very awkward. Like, are these kids actually going to use them? Do they want them? Is the girl going to take the books back to sell to the next boat of tourists? I don’t know nor do I want to.
Waving goodbye to the townsfolk, we got back onto the boat for our walk back to the motorcycles. However, upon returning to land we were happy to find that our guide had found someone to drive us back to where our bikes were waiting. So, Carrie and I hopped on back of the best driver in town’s (according to our guide) bike and were amazed as he easily navigated through the mud and dry patches. The only problem with the ride was that the best path to drive on was right next to a wall of spiky bushes that often whacked us in the face, arms and legs. Still, we were too busy laughing at the absurdity of it all to care.
Once back on our original bikes, the rest of the return trip was much the same as the trip out there. Lots of slipping and sliding, another trip through the pool puddle and a few near falls. By the time we got back to the village and boarded the finally-repaired tuk tuk the sun was already setting, filling the sky with an awesome display of oranges, reds and blues. We finally pulled into our hotel after dark, having spent double the forecasted time on the tour and full of memories to last a lifetime.
A boat ride through the village on stilts next to the Flooded Forest of Kompong Phhluk
Buddha celebration at the village on stilts next to the Flooded Forest of Kompong Phhluk