Fortunately, our last full day in Siem Reap started a little later than the previous day, giving us a chance to sleep in just a bit and have a nice big breakfast.
We spent the morning visiting a few more temples: Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Pre Rup, and East Mebon. At Neak Pean we met a little girl who was very happy with the bananas our local guide Kerry gave her.
While all interesting, I have to admit that we just didn’t know enough to appreciate the smaller differences. We get things like transitions from brick to sandstone, but eventually a bit of temple fatigue set in and we were ready for lunch.
In the afternoon we had the opportunity to visit one of the floating villages, Kongpong Pluk, and to see a more “authentic” side of Cambodia, away from the tourists and their money. We were particularly fortunate to have been taken on our journey by Rady Rure in his tuk tuk. We were connected with Rady by Neil H., a Gap Adventures employee we had met in Toronto at the Ignite the Night fundraiser for a Cambodian eye centre that Gap held in the fall.
Rady’s story is a great one that illustrates the huge impact that one act of kindness can have. I won’t do it justice here so please watch the video below that Neil put together. My short version is that while traveling in Siem Reap, Neil and his wife were taken aback by all of the poverty. When they met Rady, the decided to do something. Initially this was helping to pay his tuition fees for university and eventually raising money among their friends back in Toronto to help Rady by a tuk tuk so he could be self-sustaining.
Today, Rady not only drives his tuk tuk, he also teaches English at a school and even started his own School of English for the disadvantaged that currently has 160 students enrolled and four Australian volunteers on staff to help.
The village he took us to is a little further away, about an hour by tuk tuk. One thing that caught us off guard on the ride out was when Rady pulled over to the side of the road. We had seen stands with old bottles of Johnnie Walker, mostly red label, with what I thought was moonshine in them. When Rady pulled over we found out that they were actually filled with petrol. For those thinking about going into the business, a tuk tuk takes about two Johnnie Walker bottles of petrol to fill.
Because the village was a little further away from town there weren’t a lot of tourists, I think we saw four all afternoon, so it felt like we were getting a glimpse into real life in rural Cambodia.
The first thing that struck me was that with water levels at a historic low, the floating village was actually more of a village in the sky with houses towering over us on stilts as we went down the river to the lake and back. As we went down the river there were men, all usually up to their necks in water, fishing. Rady told us they were fishing primarily for catfish. They would throw the large weighted nets into the water and then swim in and pull them back to shore. the fishermen are all farmers who fish during the dry season to feed their families.
Rady himself is an incredibly kind and warm person, so we were really lucky to have him show us around. He said that he came from a village a lot like the one we visited, though even further from Siem Reap. He said that without the help from Neil and his family, he would be one of these fisherman. He would be working with his body rather than his mind, the thing he likes most about his life today.
As we came back down the river, we hopped off the boat to walk through the village. With no water there was a main “street” running between two rows of houses, all with long ladders where we have walkways. The village children were very hospitable, greeting us with a chorus of “bye”s both coming and going.
As luck had it, we were in town on a wedding day. There was a massive tent running down a large section of the central street and as we passed through a loud speaker was calling members of the grooms family to come out. As we were getting ready to get back on our boat, the groom and what I think were his groomsmen, were walking down the street in bright pink. Unfortunately they weren’t that close so I didn’t get a better picture.
It was really eye opening to walk through the village and reminded us how much stuff we have and how much we take for granted. The afternoon was a great experience, if a little overwhelming. It felt a bit wrong as we said our goodbyes to Rady only to go sit by the pool at our hotel and venture into town for dinner.
We finished the day feeling that we need to follow Neil’s example and look for ways that we can be more than just observers when we travel. Personally, having seen what a difference a little money (relatively speaking) can make, I want to take a closer look at things like Kiva micro financing.