Siem Reap, in northwestern Cambodia, is a temple town that has more secrets up its sleeves than just its temples. Swarms of tourists and backpackers throng this small French colonial town to hold in awe the largest temple complex in the world – Angkor Wat, and other magnificent medieval temples such as the Bayon, Ta Phrom, etc. They however often overlook some of the lesser known charms such as a free guided tour through a traditional silk farm, and the unique fishermen’s village connected to the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia. Here’s what to expect.
There are regular flights between Indian cities and Siem Reap/Phnom Penh. A trip to Siem Reap can also be combined with a few days in Thailand which would require a flight to Bangkok and over land border crossing through Aranyaprathet ( on Thailand’s side).
While the silk farm is located within the city, the Kompong Phluk fishing village is about a 30-minute drive from Siem Reap, followed by a boat ride.
You need between four to five days to cover the major temples and then it’s a straight hop off to the beaten track.
The narrow stream of water, at places not more than a couple of feet wide, snakes its way through the fishermen’s village, managing somehow to steer past the series of boats parked by the banks, past the stilted house of the local villagers, finally opening up into a gigantic mass of water – the Tonle Sap.
With no land in view across its vast expanse, the lake has the appearance of an open sea dotted with occasional floating restaurants and fishing nets. As the rains appear, a unique hydrological phenomenon unfolds. The water flowing into the Mekong River increases manifold and produces a reverse surge which results in massive expansion of the lake resulting in flooding of all nearby areas including the villages.
To counter this, the villagers build their houses on long wooden stilts as the land remains water-logged for a good part of the year. Rowing gently up and down the stream is the only way to commute, especially during monsoon season.
The river is the source of all life for the village. Daily activities such as relaxing over smoke, family prattle, and even commerce happens on the water. Daily chores are equally shared between men and women. They also have a strong sense of community and often contribute a share of their tiny earning for community development initiatives.
The silk factory is located about 15-minute tuk-tuk ride away from the city center, and is a nice leisurely way to spend the warm Angkor afternoons.
Just as a cocoon shelters and nurtures the silk worm till its maturity, the Artisans Angkor group, which runs the silk factory, nurtures and helps skilled craftsmen in post-war Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge regime all but eliminated silk farming and the sector has been slow to recover.
Tourists can witness the entire life cycle of silk production right from the cultivation of the mulberry plants, to the silk worms feeding on the mulberry leaves, right up to dyeing and weaving.
The guided tour is free of cost and at the end you also have the opportunity to explore some of their excellent finished products. Silk farms and guided tours such as these not only help mature craftsmanship but also create a potential market for the products.