Our tuk-tuk driver was called Mr. Moon. His tuk-tuk was impeccable, as were his manners. The white covers on the seats – pristine, the cleverly constructed plastic drape (which could be unzipped at will) all around the tuk-tuk to protect its passengers from the pouring rain. There were carefully chosen umbrellas hanging neatly inside the little space in case we came unprepared for the rain. There were even flip-flops hidden away in a little locker under the seats, stored there for emergencies. (At this point, I am reminded of the ‘autos’ back home in India. The stark contrast of the auto rickshaw driver who is usually rude and obnoxious especially when compared to Mr. Moon! His complete lack of consideration for his passenger or the man-on-the-road as he speeds rowdily through the potholes of Indian roads, splashing water on the pedestrians, completely oblivious of courtesy. Manners? What exactly is that??)
We had spent the morning at the Angor Wat and some of the other astonishing temples in Siem Reap. Later in the afternoon, Mr. Moon promised to take us to the floating village. As he pedaled off, the rain came down in torrents. He deftly jumped off, zipped us all into the little tuk-tuk, and slipped on his own plastic cape and helmet, which barely protected him as he sped along in silence. He was a silent man. In the few words he spoke to us, he told us he was just learning to speak English.
Many of the houses we saw along the road were built on stilts to protect them from the rising river in the rains.
We reached the boathouse from where we were told to hire a boat to head into the floating village. It was a threadbare but clean little vessel, with an equally shabby but cheerful boatman with rotting teeth and a million-dollar grin. ‘Nuts’ was our guide on the boat. (I am serious, he said his name was Nuts!) He spoke excellent English and in fact insisted on flirting outrageously with my young friend who was a part of the traveling threesome.
The Tonle Sap River was murky and churning in the rain. The boat in turn swayed like a drunken monk as we made our way through the ‘village’. It was an incredible site. Houses, restaurants, bars, a hospital, a school, even a basketball court, (donated by the US of A we were told.) floated on the mighty river. The houses even had small gardens with beautiful flowering plants. Cats and dogs sat sagely at the doorsteps watching us go by. We were their entertainment.
The mode of transport between these various boats were the smaller boats, even basins. There was a little, half naked boy floating around in a tin basin. There was another little boat, which was obviously a ‘shop’ of sorts, which sold none other than coke, beer and chips!!! As the father, (I assumed he was the father), deftly maneuvered his boat between the larger tourist boats, the little chap leapt into the tourist boats to sell his precious wares. As soon as his business was done, he leapt back into his father’s speeding boat, acrobatics that would have put a trapeze artist to shame.
There were children with enormous snakes coiled around them, floating in small bucket-like contraptions. They stretched their hands out for offerings. There were families floating along with many children in tow. Perhaps moving residence? There was a boat full of vegetables, fruits and greens. The floating vegetable market.
We reached a largish boat, which evidently housed a tourist restaurant and shop of touristy things. On embarking, we were first greeted by a large boat full of live crocodiles. They were obviously being kept there for the meat and the skin (there were several crocodile skin bags and other artifacts in the shop). At the best of times, reptiles don’t go down very well with me. Not that I dislike them, I don’t, I greatly respect their presence on this earth. I am just squeamish. The though that these poor creatures were waiting to be used for their meat and skin only made it worse. It was disheartening.
Heading back, Nuts entertained us with stories about the boatmen, the floating village and their lives. We were the voyeurs peeking in on the very real lives of these water people and children. It was a small consolation to know that at least what we paid, to take that ride, helped in some way. At least I hope it did.