The significance of our visit to our Sisophon extended family could not have been emphasized more strongly than by their cancellation of the street food stall for two full days in our favour. The 25th December had been spent preparing and sharing a celebration meal starting at 5am and Boxing Day was to be no less special. A minibus had been hired to take us and several family members, friends and neighbours to Siem Reap 65km to the east.
We left before 8am and by mid-morning were chugging out of the dock into Tonle Sap lake, not in an amphibious minibus but in a chartered boat, heading for the floating Vietnamese village and a quiet picnic at anchor some distance off-shore. Unfortunately the last rainy season had not been as plentiful as usual and our plans to motor under the shade of the trees in a flooded forest had to be abandoned and we transferred, not in the chartered boat but the original minibus (do keep up!) to the Western Baray, a vast reservoir several kilometers away built 1,000 years ago during the height of the Angkor Empire. There we set up the picnic on a bamboo waterside verandah and enjoyed swimming and tubing in the warm murky water which could have been there for the whole thousand years judging by the colour, trying not to think too much about parasites and other noxious life forms. Although river and lake dwellers here swim and manage boats from an early age, this town family does not swim confidently and the inflated inner tubes were essential and much appreciated.
The religious customs of most Khmais were evident as soon as we reached Siem Reap before we set off on the Tonle Sap. The family visited the pagoda and paid homage to the buddha by burning incense sticks, praying for good health, safety, wealth and luck and rubbing and anointing the palms and feet of the bronze statue with water. It was hard for Chan Leap to understand our unwillingness to join in the full ceremony and difficult for us to explain to whom we pray and why good luck rituals are not part of our faith.
Our lazy afternoon passed all too quickly and before nightfall the tables were turned and we found ourselves bidding goodbye as we stayed and our friends departed. Siem Reap is a great magnet for tourists because of the World Heritage Site – the vast Angkor Park – but for us it has other attractions too, other friends and memories, and one of the world class Kantha Bopha children’s hospitals which we also plan to visit later in the week.
Meanwhile it’s time for private thoughts and bed and dreams and maybe some relaxation in the morning…