Wandering down to the Tonle Sap, and one of its fishing villages, Kompong Phluk, we set out on our research trip, taking to the water by kayak. Nick Butler, ABOUTAsia’s new adventure supremo, or Chief Exploratory Officer as he likes to be called, is looking to extend and refine a series of kayaking, walking and cycling adventures. Ranging from a 3 day camping trip to the little-visited Prey Veng temple, to pleasant afternoon walks in the countryside around Siem Reap, Nick is looking to get a range for everybody.
Inflating the kayaks draws a crowd, as the local Khmers see yet more evidence of crazy Barang activities. But they do seem very impressed by the kayaks after 10 minutes on the foot pump. The lake is now rising as the floodwaters of the Mekong start to push back up the Tonle Sap river, and it takes us 40 minutes paddling against the current and into the wind to reach the village. Nick and Manus (our local guide) outstrip my poor attempts to keep up with the paddling – although I am blaming my photography duties for my lack of speed.
Kompong Phluk is smaller than the highly touristed Chong Kneas, although there are still quite a few tourist boats. Houses are still several metres above us, however. While there are a few floating buildings, this is a stilted village rather than a floating village – the community is Khmer rather than Vietnamese, and most houses are permanent, but on stilts set well above the low water levels. The lake will be lapping at their doors in a few months time.
Wending our way through the channels between the houses, we come out to our real target – the “flooded forest”. Here is where the kayaks come into their own – threading between the trees in a way that the large tourist boats can’t. Frustratingly, the most memorable sights aren’t captured on photo. Although an arachnophobe, I am amazed by the spiders here. They are about 10cm wide (legs, not body!), and drop down from the trees onto the water, and skip across the water to another tree. Fortunately they are quite timid, and are all fleeing my kayak rather than trying to board!
The forest is a magical place. quiet, still, shaded – and we hope that it stays that way. We did see a new development – a large walkway being built on one side. We are looking into this, and hoping that an “ecotourism” project doesn’t end up damaging the environment it looks to showcase.
Going with the stream it is a much quicker return – and two and a half hours have flown by. The only down side is a patch of sunburn where I have missed with the sunblock – a lesson for all.