quarta-feira, 14 de março de 2012

Mekong Island

One of the 1 day trips one person can do is to visit some cities or islands close to Phnom Penh. Yes, that's it, an island in the middle of the rivers.

Me, Jurate (Lithuania), Elisabeth (Netherlands) and Nadya (Indonesia) went on Sunday to visit the Mekong Island located in the middle of the Mekong river. This island is famous for its silk handicraft production, the 'beach' in the river shore and the tourism due to both. However, it's not an easy place to find, I will tell you.

We've met around 8 am in the Riverside (Sisowath Quay) region, after some delay we took a tuk-tuk in the direction of the Japanese Friendship Bridge over the Tonlé Bassac river. Crossing that bridge is somewhat like getting dozens of years back on time. Right after reaching the other side there's plenty of slums and the only asphalted way it's the road itself. The dry air gets red colored dusted as in the Brazil's Southeastern region during the winter. 

Our information was wrong. The place we should have taken the ferry to get to the Mekong Island it wasn't close to the bridge was we though but only after a maze of small houses. So far it cost us around $1.25/person. Then we got to the ferry at ravine on the riverbank. The transportation to the island cost $0.12/person, very cheap. Inside they put literally everything. Cars, small trucks, motorbikes, load, and even a cow that left its unmistakable aroma when we got back.

As soon as we got the island there was a ravine in the other side of the river too. It's worth mentioning that the river's level between the flood season (September/October) to the dry season (March/April) can go down around 5 to 6 meters. The result is that those tiny scooter motorbikes that can carry anything in a plain area were not made for ravines, especially when taking a heavy load with it. Out of nowhere some people start screaming (and laughing) and the intrepid native who was taking lots of water to the island became a real comboy rider as you can see. But be cool everything went right and he made it to the top of the ravine.

In the ferry, besides us, there was an extra Western with his tiny bicycle. At the beginning we just spoke English and even didn't think to ask where he came from since he looked just another tourist (more adventurous indeed) and I would guess he was French. Well, after we had already negotiated the other tuk-tuk to ride within the island ($3/person) Elisabeth calls me and tells me that in the tourist's bag was written Brazil. I've checked it and it wasn't just Brazil but "SESI/SENAI", etc. We didn't take too long I asked in Portuguese and the confirmation came, he was a Brazilian. As we were already leaving with the tuk-tuk we just had a fast chat but he joined us there on and more ahead I will tell about our conversation.

As I told you the island speciality is the silk production so every tiny house that you stop on the way to know there's always a lady weaving the yarns. Generally they produce a kind of scarf which is very Cambodian characteristic and the common print is a red or grey chess.  

To ge tto the beack we had to pay a 'tourism fee' of $0.50/person. This is the view from the top. Anywhere you can find calm waters the Khmer tradition is to put some small tents in which 4-5 people can seat an relax paying $1 for the whole day.

Once you are there any kind of vendor - childrens, grown ups, eldery, etc - are going to offer you any kind of thing - scarfs, hats, fruits, coconut water, etc - not being too different than any place in a regular beach. At this time I had more conversation with the Brazilian, Bruno. He's from Rio de Janeiro but he has been living abroad for a long time, in Canada. He decided to come to Cambodia to work for an NGO that monitors the elections - which I imagine should be very stressfull due to the recurrent accusations of results manipulation. Besides that he's striving (a lot) to learn Khmer and already can develop some very fluently conversation. More and more I find that it doesn't matter the language you want to learn the key is purely dedication as I have seen more inspire examples of people that became fluent in 3-4 months.

Other aspect was the fact that I had found other Brazilian in this place. It's not a common touristic spot, and the major of the visitor in town would never think to go "that far". I got happy to see more Brazilians leaving their comfort zone of visiting/living only in developed countries and taking chanes to know the world's frontiers. Brazilian backpackers or short-termers (<1month-2 months) it's somewhat possible to find but long-termers I really know only Bruno and me so far. 

The process of bargaining in Cambodia - differently from that in Vietnam and I imagine in China which are more likely to be held in a more aggressive fashion - it's something very corteous, with many smiles and pleasantries. Two ladies came to our tent to sell some scarfs and hats. Both liked to be photographed by us, and they insisted in putting their products in our hands and when we bargained the negative came with the smile of the picture below. In Cambodia  when you bid for something with a very low price people will laugh about. In Vietnam, I'm pretty sure I was cursed. Anyway, I have a great respect through the Vietnamese people and I was extremely well treated when I went there so I prefer to put there as different commercial cultures. 

Oh, I forgot to mention that we have bought a portion of jackfruit. Everyone knows jackfruit right? But have you ver tried it? Even though we have that fruit in Brazil I had never tried before and I loved it! Here they also make some vitamins with carrots, condensed milk, dragon fruit, etc, and it tastes great!

After we left and stoped on the way to have lunch. Typical Cambodian and Vietnamese food, noodle soup with pieces of meat and many spices for $0.75. Then Bruno stoped on the way to keep exploring the island and we got back to Phnom Penh. Finished our mini-adventure.

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