Sep 28 2011
So I guess it’s oopsadaisy if you came to Siem Reap in the last few weeks. Well, it is rainy season and you knew that. Though it’s not likely that many of the guide books would have warned you about the rising tides you may have seen outside your hotel or guesthouse and, to be fair, the flooding in Siem Reap, at least on the scale seen this September, is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Siem Reap has been deluged in the last few weeks, leaving everyone in or near the centre of town wading through murky waters if they want to get anywhere. There are a number of reasons for this, some natural (rainy season, high Mekong), and some entirely human-made (e.g. a ring-road that blocks the water’s natural flow towards the Tonle Sap and turns the southeast of Siem Reap into a giant bowl of seriously dodgy soup).
It never rains but it pours: the bad news for anyone coming here in the next few weeks too is that the rainy season isn’t over yet and the Pacific typhoon season is also due to continue until November and could have some residual effects in Cambodia, as with Typhoon Ketsana in 2009, although mid-September’s flooding was unrelated to anything like that. The good news is that at least you get some kudos from home and, for the tenacious, you may still be able to do some of the things you planned on plus have some extra stories to report back with. Who knows, you might even be able to add high street wind-surfing to the list.
The floods reveal a great deal about Cambodia’s ongoing capacity problems, and the international support that underpins that capacity (fabulously paid here today, gone tomorrow consultants don’t have to live with the shortfalls, inconsistencies and lack of continuity in their work). But they also reveal a great deal about the Cambodian nature. If you’re staying in a hotel, chances are you’re dry most of the day and can have a hot shower to warm up and clean off all the bacteria in the water. For many Cambodians, those options simply aren’t there. Worse, imagine nursing a child in an increasingly damp and dirty house. Moreover, over Pchum Ben, the response of non-governmental organisations has been virtually non-existent, because it’s a holiday, as dire an excuse for a failure to meet genuine humanitarian needs as is imaginable.
But it’s an absolute wonder to notice as you wade through the swirling waters (don’t think about the brown) the cheerful way in which Cambodians just get on and do their thing even though their home and half their belongings may very well be under four inches of water. It’s very humbling, in fact. Even a week into the floods, as some locals make their way, hollow-eyed with tiredness, through the waters on their way to the market or their job, there is still a smile for passers-by and even the chance for a good-natured giggle as this passer-by almost took a tumble into a fast-moving river.
Kids of course will make hay whether the sun shines or the rains pour, and they have a ball when the floods hit. Their own giant swimming pool and so many targets for splashing they can’t work out where to start. Ingenuity rules too, as some kids will find pieces of Styrofoam and then wait for the waves from the giant 4x4s as they cruise past. High street boogie-boarding, sorted. High street wind-surfing doesn’t sound quite so improbable now. Rafts will be made, and during Ketsana several entrepreneurs rigged up canoes, boats and rafts and used them to give lifts, mostly to the ladies it should be noted.
Adults too set about pitching their stalls, driving their motos, going to their jobs or hauling their belongings out of harm’s way in the best way they can, and usually without a trace of complaint. Imagine that happening at home? Phasing Cambodians is tough to do.
If you do go for a wadeabout, voluntarily or otherwise, the only recommendations are to wash your feet and legs properly when you get back to your hotel preferably with Dettol and especially any cuts as the water is seriously filthy, and get your hands on some worming tablets which you can get cheaply from UCare.
Aside from that, take a leaf out of the Cambodian notebook. This is not something that should phase anyone – it’s a little bit different, even a little bit fun, albeit a little bit wet. You’ll soon dry off, and don’t forget to smile.
The images above were taken after Siem Reap was hit by Typhoon Ketsana in 2009. The ones below are from the third flood that has hit this town in September 2011, with more expected.
Travelfish.org always pays its way. No exceptions.