January 16, 2006
We had an evening flight back to Saigon, so we were able to spend most of our day today around Siem Reap.
?We started at the Artisans D'Angkor, where young and talented Cambodians are trained in the country's traditional arts. The Artisans Village gives underprivileged young people the opportunity to put their otherwise unnurtured talents to use. As surprised as I was to see such social welfare programs in Vietnam (the Koto restaurant in Hanoi), I was more surprised to see such programs in Cambodia. While Cambodia is light years behind Vietnam, it was clear that significant development and growth had taken place since the end of civil warfare in 1999.
The second half of our morning was spent taking a boat cruise on Lake Tonle Sap, where there are dozens of floating villages. This was another favorite activity of mine. I was absolutely fascinated that every aspect of these people's lives took place on the water; their houses, businesses, restaurants, schools, and churches were all floating on Lake Tonle Sap. Our cruise took place during the school shift change, so we were able to see numerous children rowing themselves to and from school. Some of the children didn't
even look big enough to handle a paddle. Many of the homes had electricity, which they ran off of car batteries, and owned TVs and radios. We saw a fish farm and an alligator farm up-close, as we stopped off at a restaurant and shop for a break. As we left the floating villages, I couldn't help but feel as I did in Hanoi. Our group was one of many tourist groups that invaded the villagers' livelihoods and made tourist attractions out of them. However, the economic contribution of tourism has to be significant. Once again, I was torn between these two positions.