After a bit of a drive from Siem Reap we reach our destination – the AmaWaterways AmaDara. As noted in the title, this is one of a series of blog posts. To catch up, read our last two posts from Siem Reap. First on Anchor Wat and next on Khmer Temples. All posts describe the Riches of the Mekong river cruise from AmaWaterways.
On the way to the AmaDara
Between Siemp Reap and the AmaWaterways AmaDara, we were treated to some additional insights about Cambodia and its people from our guide Cambodian guide Finn. Here’s some snippets:
- After the Cambodian holocaust (Post Kymer Rouge, 1979), the government gave away land and houses in the cities for free to encourage re-population. To this day, there’s no property or income taxes.
- The current political system is similar to England’s. However the prime minister is very strong and has been in power for 33 years. Recently his opposition party was removed (declared illegal). There’s a difference between theory and reality.
- As a child, Finn regularly played with AK-47’s and grenades. Since cattle are so valuable, kids walked ahead to find land mines when shepherding. He used to fish with the explosive C4.
More facts from Finn
- The country has been largely deforested – the amount of the country covered by forest was reduced from 70% to 20% before and after the Khmer Rouge.
- Approx 85% of the country is flooded in October for about 4 weeks. Rice is the dominant crop.
- 70% of the country’s protein is from fish and 70% of the fish is from Tonle Sap lake or the Mekong.
- Since much of the country has no electricity and therefore no refrigeration, much of the fish is salted and dried or fermented.
- Cows are not used for milk (the Khmer people don’t drink milk or eat yogurt). Rather the cows provide a farming motive force and they are used as banks. Every 18 months they pay a dividend with a new calf. If a Cambodian needs a lot of money (say to get married), they sell a cow. Each cow is worth $500 – $1,000 each.
- Land can cost $5000 per sq meter in the developed town of Siem Reap. In the countryside, values range from $20 to 50 / sq meter.
We finally arrive at the ship. The AmaWaterways AmaDara is a beautiful ship. And because it’s a purpose built ship, all cabins have twin balconies, beautiful wood floors and a lovely outdoor sun deck with pool. Beds are very comfortable, the bathrooms luxurious and the staff fantastic. We were lucky enough to end up in a luxury suite on the top deck.
We settled in for the night after a very nice dinner. Most of all, we’re very happy to be unpacked with no prospect of packing again for a week.
Our morning excursion left the ship after breakfast. We boarded a small local ship to allow us to dock at the small town of Kampong Chhang. Virtually untouched by tourists, this bustling town of 50,000 people gave us some really good insights into daily life. We walked through the local market and saw blacksmiths (melting down bomb shells for their metal), people buying and eating breakfast, shops selling fruit, vegetables, fish and everything else, hardware stores and rice being off loaded and milled right on the street for future shipment.
Most notable were the local people – unlike many of our stops no children came up offering to sell us some trinket. They were too busy with their own lives to bother with us. We waved at small children and were greeted with shy smiles or reciprocal waves back.
The town is on the lake and fishing and rice farming is central to daily life.
Next we took our small boat for a short cruise down river to view a large floating village. The house boats on one side had electricity while those on the other side did not (they used batteries for power which needed recharging every 10 days). Sanitary conditions were poor in general. Our guide said that most of the people there were Vietnamese because they didn’t have to pay any taxes to live.
Back on the AmaWaterways AmaDara, we had an excellent lunch. At 3 pm we left for the afternoon excursion. We started out riding ox carts. These are still used in the Cambodian countryside – especially to haul farming supplies and products around. The ride was slow, a bit bumpy and quite different. To conclude, the ox cart ride is a real throwback to simpler times.
We then boarded our buses for a ride to a Buddhist monastery. On the way we went past numerous garment factories that were just ending a shift. Literally thousands of young women (mostly) came streaming out and hundreds of trucks clogged the roads transporting the workers back to their villages.
The garment industry represents Cambodia’s largest export product. And many of the shops are Chinese owned. So the people are fearful that the government will lose good relations with the West (US, Canada, Germany, UK and France are the top markets for the garments) and the factories will close.
Monks and Monastery
Finally, we arrived at Oudong and found a very large (600 monks), modern (built in 2000) Buddhist temple and study center. The complex is filled with impressive buildings and statues. We entered the main monastery building, took off our shoes and witnessed a Buddhist blessing ceremony. Next, we were all blessed with a wet lotus buds ceremony. The ceremony consisted of two monks chanting for 10 minutes inside this incredible monastery building. The experience can only be described as peaceful (and hot).
We toured the rest of the grounds including the dormitories (nuns and single women live there but don’t have the nicest accommodations) and several Buddha statues.
Of particular interest, throughout our visit, we heard the teachings (sounded like chants) broadcast on loudspeakers throughout the complex. It was a constant, ever present drone.
Back on the AmaDara
Back on AmaWaterways AmaDara, we showered and cooled off. With temperatures in the mid 90’s and 95% humidity, we needed it. After a short talk from the cruise manager we were off to dinner. Red snapper in curry sauce was our main entry – another great meal aboard the Amawaterways AmaDara.
Tonight we head down river to Phnom Penh (click to continue this series of blog posts).
We will conclude this post with some of the Cambodians we saw today: