Countryside Around Tonle SapApril 6, 2018 in Cambodia ⋅ ⛅ 31 °C
Our first excursion off the boat was to the village of Kampong Tralach, which is on the banks of the Tonle Sap lake. Some of the houses actually float on the lake, while others are on stilts, which shelter them from flooding. Beyond the banks of the lake are small villages. According to Sophea, approximately 70% of the population of Cambodia lives in small, rural villages like this one, where farming is the sole source of income. These villages are incredibly poor. Most of these villages do not have running water, and electricity was only installed in most of these villages in the last 2-3 years. Refrigeration is non-existent. Air-conditioning is literally unheard of. Yet, many of the young people seem to have some type of mobile phone, and presumably there is some access to cellular data.
We were met at the river bank by a local residents with ox-carts that we were to ride to another village. Although the notion of riding an ox-cart seemed ridiculously touristy, Sophea suggested that the rides provided a source of income for carts that otherwise were underutilized. Hard to know whether this is true, but anything that brings money into these communities — including money spent by tour companies for these rides — is probably a good thing. So, we hoped in, and enjoyed a bumpy ride through the countryside.
Our next stop was the village of Kampong Luong, in which the primary trade is silversmithing. While silversmithing must be a more lucrative profession than farming, the village did not seem any more prosperous than the first village. Again, everyone lives in small huts, with huge amphorae outside the houses to collect rainwater that is used for cooking, and bathing.
And, as is true throughout Cambodia, as there is no garbage collection services, litter is everywhere. (We actually saw one woman burning garbage, and learned that she does this twice each week. I noticed that her property was considerably cleaner than the neighboring lots.). Sophea told us that two developments have really contributed to problems of trash throughout the country — plastic bags and plastic water bottles. Until about 10 years ago, when people bought foods at the market, they were unwrapped, or were wrapped in large leaves (typically banana leaves). But, it is incredibly cheap to buy plastic bags from China, and it is less work than going outside and cutting down leaves. Moreover, most shopkeepers refuse to put multiple items into a single bag, so if you buy mangos, pineapples and guava, you are given three bags. Once people get home, they don’t reuse them, and the bags pile up everywhere. Single use water bottles are also everywhere.
Sophea told us that before he began as tour guide, he worked for an NGO that was working on environmental issues. His organization advertised an event to talk about recycling. They invited almost 200 people, and expected that between 50 and 100 people would attend the event. But, only a handful of people came. The next time, they sent invitations with $5 bills, and many people came, but no one was the least bit interested in learning about recycling. The problem is expected to become acute over the next ten years, but the government has no interest in addressing the problem and there is no awareness of environmental issues. It is sad, as the countryside is quite beautiful, but the trash mares the vistas.Read more