Channy joins us at the breakfast table at our guesthouse. He quietly makes conversation. His English is perfect and he makes the dance gently. A quarter hour later, after first making relationships, we reach the point where a price can be discussed. It’s a fair price to which we all agree so Channy’s tuk tuk will become our chariot for the day.
More prices need to be negotiated at the waterfront. The skipper starts at $US30 for two hours. I’ve read online that the going rate for this type of boat (for foreigners) is about $US10/hour so I start at $15 hoping to settle on $20. We reach agreement at $23. Some might haggle a harder bargain but, as my father says, we give money to beggars easily but when someone is actually working for their income we haggle down to the last cent. Where’s the incentive to work then? Do we value the beggar more highly than the working person?
Our skipper motors the boat upriver for half an hour against the wind and tide. The engine splutters away behind us as we pass a workshop building composite plastic river boats, houses on stilts and mechanic workshops lining the banks of Tonle Sap, which is no longer a lake; it’s now a river.
Floating villages come into view and the engine is cut. Poverty surrounds us at every turn. Tin shacks, huts made of bamboo and leaves, children who should be in school and hardworking people. That’s what comprises the floating villages. Like all communities some people have done better than others. But modern floating houses are the exception not the rule.
That said, smiles abound. Children wave and call “hello”. It’s the only English word they know (except “one dollar”). Young men wearing nothing but underwear seem to be having a swimming race, diving from one boat and stroking quickly towards another. A boy rows from one house to another down a watery “street”. It’s not idealic but humans are resilient and this is home to them.
Back on dry land we travel out of town to a pottery village. It’s interesting enough to see the pottery being made but it’s the landscape I enjoy most. Rice fields are dotted with tall sugar palms. Skinny cattle graze on what grass is available in the cultivated landscape. Gravel roads stretch into the distance creating a contrast of orange and green.
We visit a mountain temple with yet more steps to annoy Paul. It’s peaceful at the top, though perhaps we were meant to walk further than we did. The instructions about what we were to expect were lacking. We are happy though to experience the temple and walk back down.
All that’s left to do is take one last walk through town, eat dinner, return to the festival to listen to some more music then head home to bed. Tomorrow we return to Phnom Penh on our long journey home.