Cambodia is a country that has so much for one to see, to imagine, to dream and to wonder but these states can only happen when you visit it to enjoy its heritage. It has a great history and many unknown heritage sites that are still to be written about, as well as be discovered.
Many know it to be the largest settlement in world history and also one having the richest Indo Chinese roots. The collapse of such a great civilization into a dark era, until the French discovered it once again, is one topic that still intrigues historians. I for one, wanted to know for myself, why and also cherish the rich cultural heritage of this now poor country.
Landing in Cambodia at Siem Reap and sharing ideas about the possible tours available I stumbled upon a suggestion, to visit the largest lake in Southeast Asia. Hiring a tuk-tuk I was taken a few kilometres from the city square on a 30-minute ride, through the dusty roads, away from the temples and monuments to the lake.
The lake was called the Tonle Sap meaning no salt or tasteless and commonly meaning great lake. It was a huge freshwater lake and I was told it was only one fifth its actual size. Reaching the jetty I hired a motorboat for a small fee to take me along the murky waters.
The boat had a few rows of unattached cane chairs tethered to the base, as well as the sides making me kind of uneasy and I preferred to sit in the bow, rather than the seat. We motored around the winding river to the great water body. The water is murky and the boat ride is jittery but as awe takes over, you become an adventurer of sorts.
The lake has a large number of floating villages and refugees from neighbouring countries reside with the locals trying to make a living fishing in the lake. The floating villages have a school, church and a market. I was astonished when told that the water body was 2700 sq km and would grow to 15000 sq km during the rainy season. The Mekong river flows into it thereby submerging all the vegetation along the bank.
Curiously the vegetation of trees and shrubs is said to sprout leaves from the top to the base as the water recedes. The lake is home to a large number of unique species of fish which for many years have been thought to have become extinct. I was also told that the lake was formed due to the collusion of Indian subcontinental plate with the Eurasian plate and the lake is fed by both the waters from the Ton le Sap river as well as that of the Mekong River.
Of the many theories on the sudden death of the Khmer civilization and people deserting Siem Reap is said to be a major earthquake. This caused flooding which destroyed the irrigation systems. Panic struck when the temples and the abodes of the king, kings men with his tribe were damaged beyond reconstruction. This theory seems reasonable because if one gets to travel into the lake they would be amazed at its size of the waters which is as endless as the sea. To think of it suddenly flooding five times or even more would give one the impression of a devastating deluge or a Tsunami when it is coupled with a quake.
Be that what it may, my trip on Tonle Sap Cambodia was an eye-opener into the dark side of the unknown causes pertaining to Cambodia’s history. I witnessed many tourists comfortably seated in larger ferries pass by, enjoying their ride as they witnessed the life on the river. I wondered what impression the lake would be to them. Coming to the end of the ride it the boatman mentioned that however high the waters may rise or however many the fish or tourists come into the lake, their earnings and lives just manage to stay afloat. That is really a pity. This comment however deserved a benevolent tip, which I did give him, in the hope of bringing in some cheer. In return, I did receive a wholehearted smile with a rich thank you.