Exploring a Floating Village in Cambodia (Kampong Pluk)

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The friendly villagers of Kampong Pluk offer rowboat tours to travelers.

During my 2nd day in Siem Reap, I decided to go on an adventure to a floating village way out in the countryside of Cambodia called Kampong Pluk (which means “Harbor of the Tusks”).  Earlier this year I visited a fishing village in northern Kyoto called Ine, and this village actually had some interesting similarities to it.  Like Ine, Kampong Pluk primarily relies on fishing as its main source of income and is quite remote from the main part of the city.  Though it’s a popular tourist destination, it has an extremely rural feel to it and a lot of ground to explore.

I booked an extremely cheap group tour from GetYourGuide and it was actually a very pleasant journey.  I was transported to Tonle Sap Lake by an air-conditioned bus where I later boarded a longboat to explore the stilted village.  It was really amazing to see all of the different buildings there!  I saw a floating church, hospital, and several temples in addition to many brightly painted houses.  You can even opt to stay at a floating guesthouse if you feel adventurous enough to do it.

The longboat will eventually pull up to a plot of land that you can walk around.  Here you can learn more about the culture of the village and see how exactly how people live here.  It was interesting acquainting myself with the way people live in the countryside of Cambodia, but it was also disheartening to learn that a lot of people live in poverty here and depend on fishing as their sole source of income without higher education or many other options.

I was also informed by my guide (who used to live here) that some families live off rice and develop alcohol and smoking issues, so while the trip was fun, I couldn’t help but feel a bit melancholy…  Another sad thing is not much of the money you pay for the tour goes to the village.  I think they should offer more volunteer programs for tourists here so the villagers can benefit in some way.  I donated a bit, and I’m not sure how much it will help, but all we can really do is continue to be grateful for the things we have in life.  The trip to this village really taught me to be thankful for my ability to travel, and also everything I have.

The tour ended on a very enjoyable note as we watched the sunset on Tonle Sap Lake.  There is literally nothing obstructing your view so you can see it perfectly.  You can also go swimming in the lake if you want to cool down because the boat stops here for quite some time.

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Cambodia is a great country to explore just because it has a lot of untouched nature and is safe for young backpackers.  Most of the people on this tour were in their 20s (around my age) and were all interested in learning more about this country’s culture, so it was easy to converse and make friends.  I listened to music a lot and reflected on life.  It was hard to believe that this was only my second day, because a lot more adventures were about to come!

Exploring Hikone: A Castle Town with a Mythical Island and Fierce Cat Samurai

Over the weekend I made the amazing discovery that samurai cats are real!  About an hour east from Kyoto lies a quiet castle town called Hikone with the adorable samurai cat mascot you see here: Hikonyan.  Hikone is in Shiga Prefecture and borders Lake Biwa, one of the most famous lakes in Japan due to its lovely scenery.  I decided to start my trip by taking a ferry from Nagahama Port, which is just a few stops north of Hikone Station on the JR Tokaido-Sanyo line, and visit the mythical island in the middle of the lake called Chikubushima.  See the ferry schedule for reference–a roundtrip ferry ticket is around 3000 yen.

Chikubushima is known as the “Island of the Gods” and is said to be imbued with magical powers.  Though I am not a religious person, I appreciate going on journeys like this because it gives me the chance to see rare parts of the world!  You can walk around the whole entire island within 30 mins and see shrines, a beautiful view of the lake, and also try some local cuisine at the cafes (though the selection is very limited).

The main point of interest here is visiting Hogonji Temple and making a wish with a daruma doll.  Daruma Dolls are a special kind of talisman here that you can write your wish on a slip of paper and put it inside the doll for good luck.  The Japanese people at the shrine were extremely kind and helped me do this.  Though this island was tinier than I expected, it was a very nice way to start my trip!

After the pleasant ferry ride back (which only takes 30 mins), I then decided to go directly to Hikone Castle to see the Hikonyan Show!  During this time, the fiercely adorable samurai cat will come out before the castle gates to greet his visitors.  Hikonyan is treated as a celebrity by Japanese people.  I was surprised to see a line of people with cameras out waiting to see him, but he is definitely worth the hype!  He appears every day and you can see the timetables here.

In addition to Hikonyan, you can walk through the Hikone Castle, see the Genkyu-en Gardens, and also visit the Yume Kyōbashi Castle Road that has shops and souvenirs.  I visited all of these places by foot from Hikone Station, but you can also take buses around the city!  By 6pm, I was exhausted from all the travel so I decided to go back to my capsule hotel in Kyoto.  Hikone makes for the perfect day trip from Kyoto because it is easy to access and full of history.

Swimming through the Picturesque Phi Phi Islands (Thailand)

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I started the first day of my trip to Thailand during Golden Week by traveling to the picturesque Phi Phi Islands in the Krabi province. These islands have been used as film locations for several movies due to their beautiful formation consisting of many beaches and caves, and also are a popular resort destination. Whereas my first trip to Thailand focused on seeing 3 major cities of the country (Bangkok, Phuket, and Chiang Mai), this trip focused on exploring tinier islands and beaches for their unique charm.

To get to Phi Phi, it is easiest to take a speedboat from Phuket so I booked a group tour through Phuket Sail Tours to reach the chain of islands.  This tour was awesome because all of the people were around my age (mid-twenties), and the tour guide provided us with free beer.  It felt amazing to go diving off the boat and get lost within the Emerald waters of the Andaman Sea!

The first stop was Maya Bay, which was used as a film location in the movie “The Beach”. Unfortunately this beach has been closed until mid 2021 by the The Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation according to Bangkok Post due to it being overcrowded with tourists, but most tours will stop so you can take pictures of the island.

We then stopped at Pileh Lagoon for swimming and diving, and headed towards Phi Phi Don for snorkeling.  I was able to see a colorful assortment of fish and even swim with some!  I also saw tiny sting rays and sea urchins at the bottom of the ocean.  The time allotted for each location was adequate for seeing a lot of amazing sights. The bright atmosphere, bountiful schools of marine wildlife, and colorful assortment of boats really makes this a pleasant trip!

Next we sailed by Viking Cave, which we were unfortunately unable to enter due to the preservation of bird nests inside of it (according to our tour guide), but it was still interesting to see.  One of the most amusing stops was Monkey Beach, where we swam and watched monkeys ransack kayaks and backpacks for bananas.

The monkeys in Thailand are a lot like the ones in Japan–usually non-violent, but definitely handsy!  These monkeys were self-trained to open backpacks and knew exactly where to find the bananas.  Fortunately I did not get anything stolen, but it is advised to keep your luggage with you or on the boat so they do not ransack it.  Regardless, I had a lot of fun watching the monkeys here skillfully snatch food while relaxing on the beach!

To end the trip, we had a buffet lunch and chilled on the white sands of Bamboo Island.  Most tours have curry buffets with mixed vegetables, chicken, seafood, and rice because they are easy to make and are very filling.  I only eat seafood and vegetables, but fortunately I still found a lot of options.

For more information, please watch this video by Phuket Sail Tours, and please keep an eye on my future posts!