There are many fun day trips to be explored from Phnom Penh and yesterday I was treated to one of my favourites. My flatmate and colleague, Johannah, has been in Cambodia for 14 weeks but sadly she is heading back to the US in just a couple of days. Therefore our boss, Kosal, offered to take her to Silk Island for the day, as a way of saying thank you and goodbye. I was invited too and am never one to turn down a free day out!
Silk Island, or Koh Dach in Khmer, is situated just a few miles north of the city and is reached by a short boat ride across the Mekong river. The boat ride itself is one of my favourite parts of the day, especially as we climbed up to the top and watched life on the river banks either side as we crossed. Luckily for me, the copious amounts of free beer I had consumed the night before had not left me worse for wear!
Like most Khmer events, the day centred on food so once on the island we drove straight towards the rather unique restaurant set-up at the northern tip of Koh Dach. But not before we stopped to see Kosal’s cows. Yep, my headteacher owns cattle. He purchased some cows, an expensive commodity here, and they are being raised by a poor family on the island. When they are ready to be sold, the profits will be split 50/50. Jo made some new friends … I don’t like cows.
We then drove on through beautiful, green countryside. One of the things I most like about Koh Dach is the simplicity and purity of the lifestyle. The houses are predominantly the same: raised on stilts with looms and farmyard animals underneath. That’s where Silk Island gets its name. Most of the families there support themselves by making silk products. The work is painstakingly slow and methodical, but the results are beautiful. Sadly I can’t afford to spend $40 on a scarf, but I can marvel at the skilled process.
When we arrived at the “restaurant”, Jo was so excited. I’d forgotten to mention what the set up was. In fact, I don’t think it’s really explainable so here’s a picture:
You wade through the shallows of the river and sit on mats on these cute little huts. From there, you order food (I’ve only ever had one type of meal there: an entire roast chicken, rice, and some green vegetable with offal). As you wait, women come over offering different fruits and desserts, laughing at the fact that I politely refuse Khmer, before walking slowly off to the next group. It’s a wonderfully relaxing and chilled lunch set-up. We particularly enjoyed watching the various children of the sellers who were playing in the waters around us.
On the way back I requested a stop at one of my favourite pagodas in Cambodia. It’s derelict, abandoned since the back of it began to slide into the river and the roof caved in. But it’s weirdly well maintained, probably for tourism purposes although I’ve never seen another person there. The Buddha statues are draped in bright orange cloth and a pile of incense sticks are waiting to be lit at the foot of the shrine. It’s a haunting, etherial, strikingly beautiful building. The remaining ceiling is painted with religious characters and the cracked floor tiles give a sense of how grand the building must have been when it was a working religious site. Piled up in the back are old, wooden stretchers, used to carry the deceased: a little bit creepy. This was my third visit to the pagoda and it just gets more stunning every time. I was particularly happy to see a small pony tied up nearby so whilst Jo looked around I went to say hello. Although she was a little spooked at first and looked like she was about to try and bite me, patience, slow movements, and soothing tone allowed me to get close enough to touch her nose. Once I began gently scratching her head, she realised that being petted by humans wasn’t so bad and seemed perfectly content to allow me to stroke her for a good five minutes or so. I hadn’t touched a horse for over four months before yesterday and it made me realise how much I miss my horse, Melly.
We then drove back to the city, tired and contently stuffed with chicken. Koh Dach remains pleasantly untouristy (we didn’t see a single other “barang” whilst there) and I would recommend this trip to anyone visiting or living in Phnom Penh. The only problem is that the ferry is very poorly signposted: there is just one small arrow, with ferryboat written in Khmer, off National Highway 6. But with a good tuk tuk driver it’s definitely a trip worth making. I’m so glad that Kosal suggested visiting with Jo as it was the perfect way to celebrate her time in this country and say goodbye. Thanks to both of them for making this such a wonderful day.
Watch this space for my next blog post, which will be an actual goodbye post for Jo.