BUNTHA AND NICK’S SATURDAY MORNING KAYAKING EXPLORATION
A million miles from the dusty city centre and the tour buses jamming the road to Angkor lies the ancient lake of Boeung Ta Neue. Our mission that morning was to discover if this was a kayaking adventure or just a paddle on a large pond.
Lake Ta Neue
The lake lies at the base of Phnom Bok, a 250 meter hill that looms large over the surrounding countryside and a reference point for our cycle rides, hikes and now we hope kayaking.
To give you a flavour of all three I’ve taken a bit of poetic license and combined our adventures together.
Our story starts and finishes in Pradark as so many do, we later found out. Pradark for those who haven’t been there is a crossroads with a market on one side and shacks selling rice noodles with fermented fish (num ban chok) on the other.
The old road leads from the centre of the village, which is where we started our bike ride to Pradark Pagoda, a wat shaded by the tall trees of its forest.
A monk’s house at Pradark Pagoda
Cycle left by the lady washing her breasts from the well, continue through scratchy bushes and there in front of you is the excavation site of Prasat Com Nat. Eleven hundred years ago this was a hermitage for monks and place to store the sanscript encrypted stellae that recorded the history of the Angkorian Empire (and how the king happened to be feeling that day).
Prasat Kam Nap
Crunching rice stubble we paddy bashed back to the shady path that runs along the banks of the East Baray. The ancient reservoir is a perfect rectangle 12km long by 2 wide once brimming with water. Now it’s a fertile patch of irrigated land, where multiple crops of rice shine bright green the year round.
View of the Baray from the East bank
The Village of Pum Samre is built on either side of the path where we now cycled, that is until we reached a wedding. A tent had been erected over the route and a bank of speakers piled ominously in front of the family’s house.
We cycled between the tables of spangled women in tight nylon dresses and drably clothed men in ill fitting long sleeve shirts and trousers, who oblivious to our bikes continued to toast with Angkor beer and ice washing down whatever offal was on the wedding menu that day.
Village life was on show; buffalo snorted, cows chewed, dogs barked, children shouted hello then goodbye, adults the customary greeting ‘mow pi na?’ Where do you come from. Motodops and bicycles, beautifully crafted oxcarts and the mechanical croyun that are replacing them. Wooden houses built on stilts to provide shelter from the rain, sun and insects. Fruit trees provide shade and ripe mangoes, coconut palms – well its obvious and sugar palms, you’ve guessed it sugar and the wine that ferments in plastic bottles hung beneath the flowers, reached by a bamboo ladder tied to the side of the trees.
The village of Pum Samre
Ahead of us lay the lake that laps up to the base of Phnom Bok, or at least it will when the rains come, but first Prasat Tor. We nosed through the thickening vegetation that cloaks the temple. Three laterite towers on a raised mound, where shaded by a leafy tree our table will be laid for lunch (will because we haven’t done it yet).
Suitably fortified by our imaginary repast we (will) find our kayaks ready on the lake shore
A barang (foreigner) on a dirt bike with a big bag is reason enough to abandon whatever you are doing. When the big bag turns out to be a boat it becomes a day to remember. So by the time we were ready to start we had a launch committee. The fishermen in underpants stopped casting their nets in wonderment while those submerged to their noses turned to stare.
The launch committee
Clad in a mantle of green forest the mountain dominates the lake. At its base cows grazed and fishermen returned with their catch, from which the women make Prahoc (fermented fish). Ladies cut spiky leaves to weave baskets and buffalo munched on water hyacinth.
Cast net fishermen (and a dog)
We set off to find the West channel , a bamboo fishing fence. The North channel, clogged by mats of impenetrable water hyacinth and the South Channel, no water. So we paddled back to where we’d started. In a few months the lake will have swelled opening up the rivers and canals for us to explore and paddle to our pick up point.
Lunch was back at Pradark where we’d started with Num Bang Chok and Angkor beer. First a white taxi and a fat driver who just ordered his noodles and coconut when a blue taxi screeched to a halt beside our table.
Num ban Chok in Pradark
The driver of the second taxi jumped out handed some notes to the fat driver, while the lady sitting in the back seat pulled a barely conscious girl out of the car and carried her across to the white taxi, which sped off before she could close the door.