For our last day here, we decided to take Nakim's suggestion to visit Tonle Lake, then the City tour mid afternoon up to nightime.
The long and hot walk yesterday gave us cramps. Instead of the planned 7AM tour, we left the guesthouse an hour late. And the way to Tonle Lake is quite far. The scenery is like having a fieldwork once again somewhere in Maguindanao. It is a long ride with rice fields, lotus field and some fishponds on the sides. There is also another temple on the other side of the mountain where you can get a good shot for the sunset. Later we found out that you can go there for free, you just need to pretend you are a local. :p
Nakim already paid our $23 each person for the boat ride and we have Samin and Ra as guides. There is two large boats with Korean tourists ahead of us.
Ra says he is a volunteer tourist guide. he works as a waiter in the mainland resto. Samin has been working with "The Company", the Association of the Boatmen in control of the lake tourism in the area.
There is an ongoing resort being constructed near the lake. Nina confidently shared it must be a coal-fired power plant but our guides said it is a resort owned by one Khmer and Korean.
|Notice the dirty white overhead? That's the cover of the banca where they put their dead.|
|Water lilies can be eaten|
|It's a harsh life.|
|The Korean tourists. They are always in groups.|
Then after lunch the guys, Ra and Samin suggested rather strongly that we can visit the mangrove and pay another boat going inside. We said we do not have enough time to do it. Earlier, Ra told us, especially me about the Charity House. This is where orphans and unmarried and widowed women live. He was insisting for us to buy "something for the kids there." The charity is also a preschool orphanage. They said food is better and one sack of rice (which is a small one, just around 25 kgs) for $30 (around Php 1, 330!).
At the back of my mind, here it goes! Before coming here, I already made research on the boat ride from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh and for its schedule. Then by accident I saw the long discussion in the Trip Advisor on the "racket" along Tonle Lake. There's several tourists who wrote that they also feel forced to buy something in the name of the Charity. But they saw the sacks of rice being brought back to the store! They felt they were deceived. Who does not want to give to charity? Who does not feel good about giving and sharing the blessings?
Then Ra was saying, "We like you because you are here to understand my country better. Not just tourists who came here and take pictures but you ask more questions, you are interested." I asked questions about the arrangements they have between the boat association and the big restaurant where they always take the tourists. I asked if there is some sort of a small percentage they give to the Charity and they said no. I asked, why? He was irritated why I asked. He claimed he came from the Charity.And everything they said it seemed should not be questioned. Not to be offensive, but hey, I know the look of poverty. We've seen it. We breathe it. I've worked with it.
But I know one who uses poverty for a racket. If they think just because we are there as tourists. then we will just shell out money and pay for whatever they ask, then they miscalculated us.
Earlier, they have been laughing with us. But when I refused to buy the small sack of rice and instead bought the candies and biscuits, and told them that we do not have huge amount of money they expect us to give, they changed. They stop being friendly and chattery with us. I can understand where their frustration came from- the neglect of government basic social services, the mainland vs coastal/lake division and how the tourism development marginalizes the 'not so picturesque' areas. We might be even one of the culprits for taking this trip and adding to the mafia-like business dealing in the area. However, there are other ways to take their cause and not to deceive tourists. He let us meet the school administrator/ principal and he got the latest iphone 6. so what does that tell us? I don't like the idea of classes being interrupted for "visitors/tourists to gawk at hapless orphans". It was barely a classroom, it was a showroom and I refuse to be a part of the charade.
I can sense the frustration with Ra's voice. But I caught him lying, he told me earlier he was married with children and later took it back saying it was a joke and that he is just 17 years old. I did not laugh with the joke.
I told Ra that I volunteered for a children's literacy program and we are not like other tourists that got a lot of money, he would not believe since travelling for him means spending a lot of money, ergo we got a lot of dollars with us. We tried to explain that we are working and students at the same time. If their attempts have been swallowed whole by other tourists, not us.
It was already getting late and the midday sun is already painful in the eyes. They insisted that we give tips. I did give a tip to the boatman, but for them, I told them the association has already charged us big enough to cover the tip. Nina and Xyza went ahead since they will be using the loo, I was left behind then Samin tried to accompany me to look for our tuktuk driver. Not in good intention but just to stall me thinking he can still get more tips from me. He is leading the wrong way. I told him off that I can find Nakim on my own. He attempted to get more tip but I stood my ground.
We found Nakim and we went back to the City center. When he asked us about our experience, the three of us looked at each other. I told him nicely that it was an eye-opening experience- to see the other side of their country. But I was heartbroken by the neglect that also caused people like the boatmen to make such racket. Tourism if not handled properly, only heighten the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Nakim nodded and also shared that there were already complaints. Also the small boats cater to small groups and if they continue it, it will surely discourage other travelers.
By traveling, we see both see the goodness and the gray side of humanity. Samin and Ra only wanted to live and feed their family and circumstances push them to do it. *sigh*
We talked about it on our way back to the downtown. But we won't let that to dampen our spirit. Nakim brought us to Artisans Angkor, where we learned about silk weaving, lacquer painting and stonework Our guide was Bohanne Lern and he was very patient in explaining to us the intricacies of the art. The apprentices are all over the area and they are trained and paid. The meticulous work, the details and the talent to produce such artwork are just inspiring.
|Thank you Nakim for the chance of knowing you.|
We just walked around the nearby temple. Then roam around the Old Market.
Nina was looking for a currency exchange shop. She collects all denominations of the country she visited and she wanted riels. Just right along the street, there's a transparent shelf in public's view. There are thousands of dollars and riels just scattered around. We were amazed by how the shop owner just throws the money. Nina keep on sking for different riels and she wanted the crisp bills. Then he called someone. She said, "100 riel ay Php 5.00 sa atin." We shrieked in glee. A Pinay, Ate Miriam Pangket who teaches at Angkor University and does tutorials on her spare time for additional income. We talked and she shared that she came from Baguio. She and Xyza then started talking in Ilocano.
|With Ate Miriam Pangket, our instant guide and party guru.|
We're already famished and she brought us to her suking carenderia at the Old Market. She brought us to Angkor Famous resto, where the food is tasty and very affordable. She promised to meet us after her tutorials at 7:30PM. We tried the meat combo- consist of frog, crocodile and the usual chicken and pork barbecues.
|The meat platter: chicken, pork, frog and crocodile. others serve with shark meat.|
Shark meat is off our list.
|Graffiti outside Angkor Famous Restaurant|
Nina: "Can I use the toilet?
Waiter: " Toilet or me?"
|Nina and her suitor. :D|
When we asked for our bill, he motioned his heart shape one and ask Nina, "This too?" (Like asking, will you ask for my heart too?" Oh boy, it as one of the most crazy moment so far.
We keep on laughing while walking. We talked, laughed some more, haggled and killed some time. We noticed the fish spa here and wanted one for a pet. A fish that can do manicure and pedicure! We will buy if the fish can also apply nail polish. hahaha!
Nina needed to take another time at the loo and she did not want to go back to her new found love. So were about to take photos at the lovely reflection of the Christmas lights at the bridge when one guy asked, "Pinay?"
"Yes!" we exclaimed. Our nonstop talking really makes us easy to spot (aside from the identical fedora caps) Then he introduced himself. He is Kuya Oscar Sacramento, retired United Airlines employee who celebrated his birthday on the 18th. He's been going back to the place since 2012 (it's his third time already). We just sat on the bridge and shared travel stories. We laughed as he shared his adventures in different areas. He told us that the best way to learn is to travel. And always, in every work make yourself indispensable. Show them your capacity, make them respect you.
|Meeting Tito Oscar and his antics and life's advice|
|Bar hoping with these people. Who said you can't party with strangers?|
We did and we think we attract wonderful strangers!.
We feel like we're Cinderella, time is our nemesis. We're afraid for the clock to strike to 12 MN. No matter how beautiful the night is, fairytales end. We hesitantly said goodbye to Ate Miriam and Ate Theresa. They invited us to go back there next year, especially for the Water Festival on April (that coincides with our Holy Week). They contacted the tuktuk driver they knew to drive us to the guesthouse. We're taking the sleeper bus ($11 each) and someone will pick us up by 11:30PM.
|Waiting for my roomie. That smile and the pretensions.|
I was in bed already when other passengers are coming up that that small space will be shared by 2! Nina and Xyza were together. I on one hand have no idea who my "roommate" will be. Imagine the cramped space and the idea of sharing a bed with a stranger. I am afraid I'm already drunk, I smell and and I'm used to sleeping alone and I move a lot. I cannot pay for the space since the tickets have been sold already!And I am also on a budget.
The two gals are already teasing me. NIna already got his tadhana, probably I'll get mine here. HAHA! Then a couple came saying I got their bunk. I did not give in immediately. The conductor came and he told me I got the wrong bed. Instead of staying at 7B, it should be 1B. Then when I peered at 1B, there is already a guy who is occupying the other half of the bed. It is the most awkward, weirdest feeling. I was muttering under my breath, "Oh my ghad, this is sooo weird" I might not have the freshly bathed scent but I changed my shirt and put some powder. But still...I never dreamed about it. And I was silently praying that I will not have a smelly roomie.
Nina and Xyza never stopped teasing about me. "Beatch, basig lugoson na nimo ha!" I just laughed along. It was the most uncomfortable 6-hour ride of my life. There's another 3 Pinoy travelers (2 girls, 1 boy) that was on the same automobile that picked us up from the different guesthouses. The two girls were on the other side of the bunk and I was thinking one of the girls is the guy's girlfriend. I had a hard time sleeping.
By 3 AM we had a stop-over, supposedly to pee and refresh, but it is just in a middle of nowhere. The bus has no CR! The guys did their things on the bushes. I tried mouthwashing and wiping off dust (and saliva) from my face. I woke up Nina and Xyza and they started badgering me with questions with laughter in between. Then my roommie asked in Tagalog, "Saan po kayo?"
That broke the ice and the discomfort. In a span of remaining 40 minutes before arriving to Phnom Pehn, my roomie is no longer a stranger. He is Harold Jubinal, a reservations officer at one of the island 5-star resort and he is traveling to Phnom Penh for a job interview. And it turned out, he is also from Davao City and........ from Mintal in particular! (that's where I spent 4 years of my college years). Probably, we've meet already without us knowing. Mintal is a very small community.
I told him about my awkwardness, my silent and answered prayer to have a roomie who will not assail my nostrils. He laughed and laughed some more when fully understood the teasing from the two girls. He knew we are not full Cebuanos since the words we've been using were not too deep Bisaya. He surmised we are from Davao. Gut feel, he said. I told him that I assumed he is the boyfriend of the other Pinay in the other bunk. He laughed saying he's traveling alone. But his mom is working in Siem Reap for a marketing company. He shared his work experience in AmanPulo (one of the most expensive resorts in Palawan, where Hollywood celebrities have their getaways) and his search for greener pasture. He is a jolly young man and a gentleman.
When we arrived at Phnom Penh bus terminal, he helped us with our baggages. I wished him good luck.
It's funny how chance encounters connect us somewhere. From the group of Ate Miriam, we learned that people create a sense of family; a group of people can be binded with collective dream of good life and fighting homesickness, Tito Oscar taught us to be fearless and to be adventurous while we still got the energy for it. Harold taught me not to just settle. These people- they are the different faces of Pinoy Diaspora.
Chance encounters and strangers make traveling more worthwhile. Siem Reap, the temples were awesome, but the people you've been cradling are the best. Thank you for making it memorable. ♥