On our first morning aboard the AMA Dara, we had a nice buffet breakfast in the restaurant. Like the hotels we have been staying in, the food was plentiful with many Viennese and American-type food.
We then did our first tour at 8:45am, which was a boat ride down the river, offering a first hand look at the ‘local color’. We transferred directly from the ship to the smaller boat for our sightseeing cruise. This one and a half hour tour was fascinating! We first sailed past a village of hundreds of homes on stilts, and floating homes. Some of the homes looked quite dilapidated, while some where more elaborate. Most however, were quite simple, and it didn’t seem possible the stilts could support the home! The reason these river homes are on stilts is because of the rainy season, where the river rises drastically. The residents here literally move their homes back off the river when the rainy season comes.
Next we continued sailing past the Floating Markets. We flew over a similar floating market two days ago on our helicopter ride over Angor Wat, but here we saw this close up from the boat. To say this was amazing is an understatement, but it’s something you really have to see to believe. Seeing the families, children, fisherman, shopkeepers, and yes even delivery-service boat workers offered us an outsider’s view into the everyday life of the Cambodian ‘river people’.
Again the internet is super slow at this point of our journey, so I’ll post more photos later. But it was truly amazing seeing this busy floating village of commerce, and it was impressive that there were so many delivery boats that made ‘house calls’! Similar to Amazon, the vendors would deliver various goods to the villager’s houses, so they didn’t have to go to the market. Normally Cambodian people go to the market twice a day, we learned, as most homes don’t have refrigerators. So it’s busy in the mornings, and then again late afternoon. We took loads of photos which I’ll post when I get home, or at least quicker internet. The infrastructure of Cambodia is still being built as at the result of recent wars, and looking at the hodgepodge of wires within the cities and villages, it’s easy to see why it’s so slow or even working at all.
After sailing thru the Floating Markets, we went back to the ship and had lunch in the AMA Dara’s restaurant. It was a buffet lunch, but you could also order off of a menu as well. I skipped the ‘local stuff’, and ordered a cheeseburger and fries! Actually I have been eating ‘local’ most of the trip, but this cheeseburger lunch sounded good. The meat did taste different than the American taste, but was ok, and the french fries good.
We had a few hours before our afternoon tour, so it was nice to relax a bit. Around 3:30pm, we docked at another town, an debarked to the small town known for it’s silver and copper artistry. Like the Floating Markets in the morning, the walk-thru in this small town offered an inside look at a totally different, and local culture – like something out of National Geographic. We saw homes on stilts, local handicraft people pounding silver into intricate designs, and children anxious to speak English with us. It was definitely something off the ‘beaten path’, but the villagers were very open to us exploring their town, and proudly posed for photos.
At the last stop, we went by the local school which was just ending for the day at 5pm, and were offered the chance to talk and interact with the children. Like the AMA Waterways school we attended, the children were eager to practice their English skills with us. The children seemed genuinely happy, and we really enjoyed talking with them. While we made a cash donation in the donation box, if we did this again, I would have brought some school supplies to give them as others did. While the education is free for the students, they are still responsible for paying for their uniforms and school supplies and books, which is difficult for many families.
Our local Cambodian guide ‘Parrot’ (pronounced phonetically) was very informative and was happy to educate us about the Cambodian culture throughout our time together. Parrot said that while 96% of children go to elementary school, the number drop dramatically, perhaps by 40% as the kids go to secondary school due to cost, distance, and other factors. It was so nice seeing this children anxious to speak English, and getting a good education. Parrot also noted that 50% of the Cambodian population is under 25, due to the war and life expectancy, although it is rising. We had heard that before we came here, that literally a generation was lost due to the horrible years of war, which ended quite recently.
After our tour of the small village, we returned to the ship and freshened up. DOS and I went to an AMA Waterways repeat passenger party (this was our third AMA Waterways cruise) and chatted with fellow passengers. At 7pm, we went to the ship’s one specialty dinning restaurant, ‘Fusion’, which is complimentary and offered to every passenger one night per sailing. We had a nice table of 8 with our new-found ‘family’ of friends, and it was a wonderful ‘night out’.
After the leisurely dinner, we stopped by the Saigon Lounge for a nightcap, before heading up to bed. ‘Twas another memorable and unforgettable day in Cambodia.