When I first arrived in Phnom Penh, Totie and the gang raved about a trip they’d just taken to a place called Silk Island – only a short tuktuk trip from the city – and so this weekend Vicky and I thought we’d try it out for ourselves.
Sophat rocked up at 6.30am and we were off. Vicky and I passed the first part of the journey catching up on the week just gone and before we knew it we were on the Japanese Friendship Bridge crossing the Ton Le Sap river (one of 2 that wends its way through Phnom Penh. The tuktuk took a little cajoling to haul its load up the pretty steep incline of the bridge but none the less it made it breathing an almost audible sigh of relief as we free wheeled down the other side.
A further brief tuktuk journey and we arrived at the port ready to cross the Mekong. Now, please be aware I use the word port with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek as really what we arrived at was a gateway leading to a steep muddy, gravelly ramp to the water’s edge.
A ferry was just departing as we arrived so we wandered down to watch it and spotted that there was in fact another ferry ploughing its way slowly back to us, meaning our wait wouldn’t be too long.
Once the ferry docked the ramp had hardly been lowered before a stream of motorbikes, tuktuks and foot passengers made their way off the ferry and then we were on.
Taking a seat on the top deck (it had to be done) we gently made our way across the Mekong on a quick 5-10 minute jaunt to the island.
Once again the disembarkation was swift, so swift in fact that we nearly found ourselves heading back to the city being the tardy Brits that we are. We did make it onto land and hopped back into the tuktuk to explore.
Before long we had been ‘adopted’ by a woman on a motorbike who chatted to Sophat (presumably convincing him to take us to her home) and invited us to view her weaving silk. She had fab English (enough banter without being annoying), a cheeky smile and tenacity – all good as far as I’m concerned and so off we went.
All I can say is bl**dy hell, making silk fabric is one labourious process. The women spend 8 days weaving just one 4 metre length by hand, carefully adjusting the loom with each weave to ensure the intricate pattern is correct.
We watched for a while whilst our host chatted to us and started to ply her wares. Vicky was targeted to try on a skirt which fit her perfectly and so the haggling began. Mrs Tenacious offered us a discount for bulk buying which was all the encouragement I needed to choose a scarf for myself and, having agreed not to tell the people further on the great price she’d given us, we settled on a price and headed off.
There is only one main road on the island and it’s still under construction. Cue comedy moment as Sophat attempted to get the tuktuk with Vicky and I onboard up a steep kerb from the mud track to the concrete road. Needless to say we quickly disembarked and manhandled the tuktuk up the step much to the delight of the gathered audience.
And then we were on our way again. Wending our way down the island until we reached the beach. Another tongue in cheek moment here as the ‘beach’ is actually waist high under water on account of us being in the midst of the rainy season. We were shown to a riverside bamboo hut structure, a mat was laid down and our lunch order was confirmed (Sophat had warned us beforehand of the correct price and the likelihood of being scammed with a foreigner price and did a stirling job of forcefully getting the Cambodian rate for our chicken rice and veggies turning down a ‘commission’ for convincing us to pay more).
We spent a pleasant ½ hour or so chatting whilst dinner arrived, brought down to us in a basket replete with the individually wrapped components of our meal – a whole roast chicken, green veg cooked with pieces of liver, a huge bowl of rice and 2 lovely dips, one pepper and one chilli to accompany the meal.
I have to say that chicken was mighty fine, freshly cooked and pretty succulent considering how scrawny they are. Sadly, the feet were slightly overcooked so we fed those to the gathered village dogs along with the head which neither of us felt like eating, despite Sophat trying to convince us it would help us think more creatively!?
After lunch it was time to chill – we sat watching the children play in the river (I still can’t get my head around them coming out of such muddy sludge just looking wet not muddy!), were entertained by some snack sellers who were pretty desperate to sell their wares (thankfully targeting Vicky as the best hope so I got to just sit and chuckle) and listened to Sophat wax lyrical about certain elements of Cambodian life (the Vietnamese featured heavily is all I will say here).
There was a short interlude where Sophat decided he would use one of his many phones to listen to an English lesson on parts of the body which took an alphabetical approach leading us from liver to moustache in one fell swoop and reached its pinnacle when it came round to the letter E again and boldly declared oesophagus.
Language lesson complete we were then treated to a number of increasingly bizarre tales, all of which Sophat ensured us were true. My favourite is the story of the penguins that, having been rescued from the sea by a kindly South African looking tired and covered in oil, returned each year from their native Brazil??? to visit the kind man in South Africa to offer their thanks. Apparently, we know this is true because it was on the internet translated into Khmer – so there!
Sophat the story teller showing us how it was determined whether children were old enough for school in the past
I’m really looking forward to seeing Vicky tomorrow, as, making no attempt to hide her incredulity (neither did I BTW) she has vowed to research each and every one of Sophat’s ‘true stories’ on Google to hopefully find evidence to validate our disbelief.
We must have been lounging in our hut for a good 4 hours (our rather red arms and legs would attest to it being too long) before the need for refreshment urged us to leave. BTW, according to the Old Sage that is Sophat, according to legend whatever you believe is true Buddha will make true. I tried out this theory by asking Buddha to make true the delivery of an Iced Coffee to our hut but was reliably informed by Sophat that the reason it failed is because I can’t just pick and choose when I believe – so maybe he’s not all full of hot air eh!?
Refreshed, firstly with water from a roadside stall and latterly in a gorgeously lush garden of a homestay guesthouse where I finally got my iced coffee, we made our way back to the ferry following slowly behind a road gang who were removing the leftover concrete pouring grids on the back of a pickup – taking up the whole road. At this point it chose to rain and so Sophat got out his trusty brolly to cover the engine of the tuktuk and Vicky and I entertained ourselves watching the increasingly soggy convoy as it wended its way.
The ferry back was another comedy moment but I’ll save that for another day as there’s a video that highlights part of the event and it’s not downloaded yet.
Back on the mainland and an uneventful journey brought us home, tired but happy.
What a fab day discovering a lovely bit of paradise so close to home – I can’t wait to return!