Kompong Phluk, Cambodia: Village On and In the Lake

Michael CarterBy Michael Carter

Remember your school days when part of the year you would walk to school and climb a towering set of stairs to the entrance, and the remainder of the year would row there in a boat right up to the doorstep? No? Then perhaps you didn’t grow up in Kompong Phluk, Cambodia.

Where is Kompong Phluk, Cambodia?

Many often call Siem Reap “Temple Town” because of its proximity to Angkor Wat. Kompong Phluk, makes for an interesting day trip from Siem Reap. It lies just 16 km away from Temple Town, although the meandering road makes the trip closer to 31 km. It is actually a collection of three floating villages by the Tonlé Sap Lake. The Tonlé Sap River fills and empties into the Tonlé Sap Lake, depending on the time of year. The Tonlé Sap is a UNESCO biosphere reserve, thanks to its unique plant species, fish, and animals, many of which are listed as endangered. Close to 4,000 people call Thnot Kambot, Dhei  Krahom, and Koh Kdol — the three villages of Kompong Phluk — their home. Severe flooding is not uncommon during the rainy season, but for the denizens of Kompong Phluk, Cambodia, it is an annual expectation.

A photo of a building in Kompong Phluk during the dry season

How Do the Locals Survive?

Kompong Phluk translates roughly as Harbour of the Tusks. The community sits high on stilts averaging six metres high. During the wet season months, from May to late October, the denizens rely on fishing. This includes river shrimp and the slightly larger river lobster — which is nothing like the ocean lobster I loved so much in Canada. With the change of the season in November, the water flow reverses and begins receding. Basic farming supplements the fish shortage. Villagers erect temporary shacks by the lake to accommodate the new (and temporary) agricultural activity.

With Siem Reap and the nearby Angkor temples attracting tourists, curious visitors are increasingly making trips to Kompong Phluk. This relatively new site made its way onto the tourist trail within the past couple of decades.

Kompong Phluk’s Flooded Forest

At about 6,000 hectares, locals refer to the largest mangrove forest in the area as the flooded forest. For a donation of around $5 US, local women will paddle you throughout the mangrove in their small boats. With this proving to be another source of income for the residents, the mangrove forest has a good chance of remaining intact, a blessing for both the village residents and people around the world.

A Helpful Donation or a Scam?

I think most travellers like to help add to the places they visit in some way. Despite that,they don’t want to feel they are being scammed. I think it is always one of the greatest dilemmas a traveller can face.

There is no shortage of children in Kompong Phluk. Like most Cambodian people, I find them to be very photogenic. They love slipping into your photographs. Unlike many of the street beggars I have encountered in larger cities, these kids attempt to use their smiles to entice you to purchase basic school supplies for them, such as notebooks and pencils. I curiously witnessed the process and it became rather apparent that these supplies had been bought and sold before. Meaning that they get you to buy the book and invite you to their classroom and then await the next generous group to come along.

An Educator’s View

It was a real dichotomy for me as I have worked in education for over two decades. Furthermore, I’ve lived in Cambodia since 2007, so I’m more familiar with mischievous Cambodian school children than the average tourist. I watched as two western women bought supplies and I accompanied them up the stilted stairway to a large classroom filled with happy, smiling faces. The kids seemed truly grateful and I questioned myself for doubting — perhaps even knowing — that their opportunistic mothers may have put them up to all of this.

A photo of the tourist and Kompong Phluk, Cambodia children

I suppose that if you go to Kompong Phluk, Cambodia someday and encounter this situation, you will have to allow your own feelings to guide you.

All about Michael

We first met Michael Carter back in January 2020 when he was interviewed by close friend and fellow Dreams Abroad contributor, Edmond Gagnon. Michael has since gone on to pen his very own articles for our site. These have seen him recount visiting some of his favourite places in Asia such as Vietnam’s Con Dao Islands as well as those on the other side of the world like Havana, Cuba. We can’t wait to see what more Michael has to share!

Massachusetts’ Capital: Things to Do in Boston

edmond gagnonIf you are reading this, you’re probably bored and afflicted with the same disease that I’ve had since the pandemic lockdown. Wanderlust is a powerful ailment that causes itchy feet, strong cravings, and a yearning to get out and go anywhere. But in today’s COVID-infected world, our travel destinations are limited. Where can you go?

Explore your own country. Look around the state, province, or city nearby and pick a destination that you can travel to in the safety of your own vehicle. For those of you in the USA, check out some things to do in Boston. It’s the capital city of Massachusetts and sits on the Atlantic seaboard. The city is also reachable by air or rail if you’re looking for alternate means of transport (pursue those at your own risk). Make sure to check for any travel restrictions before heading out on your adventure.

Things to Do in Boston

Delve into the History of the City

Boston is a city of firsts. The city built Boston Common, the US’ first city park in 1634. In 1635, the first public school in America opened, the Boston Latin School. After that, Boston built the first subway in 1897. Other firsts include the first inoculation, first telephone, and more. Born of the original New England colonies, it’s steeped in history and home to some of the country’s most important forefathers. Charles River outlines the city proper, which backs up against Boston Harbor. 

When exploring a new city on foot, my wife and I like to stay in the old city center, if possible. The historic Omni Parker House is upscale and expensive, but we snagged a special rate that suited our budget. We saved a lot of taxi fare by staying in a central location. Additionally, a very helpful hotel concierge gave us invaluable tips and made tour bookings for us. 

Go Downtown

Boston has taken a unique approach to helping tourists discover their city. They offer several free walking tours that explore the historic downtown and harborfront. Explorers get a map outlining several different trails to follow, depending on what you want to see. Each trail is marked by a different color line marked on the pavement, and all you have to do is follow the yellow brick road. 

We took the Freedom Trail and started at the Beantown Pub. Best to stay hydrated. And it’s the only place in town where you can drink Sam Adams and stare at his grave directly across the street. Being team players, we did both, then wandered through the graveyard continuing our tour. We wore off the beer on foot, ogling centuries-old buildings and exquisite architecture. The Boston Public Library’s Central Library in Copeland Square was something to see, especially the cavernous study room inside. 

 

Downtown is shouldered by the Boston Harbor, made famous by the Boston Tea Party, where American colonists protesting British taxes dumped crates of tea into the bay. If you’re looking for things to do in Boston, this stop should be at the top of your list. We strolled the scenic boardwalk connecting various wharves and restaurants that have been built into old warehouses. Fancy hotels with harbor-view patios and new condos offer sea views. 

A photo of a heavy iron fence post holding up a metal chain rope in front of sailboats in the Boston Harbor, a must-see when looking for things to do in Boston.

Tuck into Fresh Seafood and Wash it Down with Beer

Across the street from the Battery Wharf Hotel on Atlantic Avenue, we found a cool little beer garden that was neatly tucked into a city parkette. I ordered a couple pints of beer to quench our thirst and a homemade pretzel to nibble on. Still hungry, Cathryn found a place nearby that served up the best Lobster Roll we’ve ever had. Boston looked pretty awesome to us from our vantage point on the street corner. The cold beer and fresh lobster may have had something to do with it.

A photo of a lobster roll.

At least once in every place we visit, we treat ourselves to a nice meal. While exploring Long Wharf on the harborfront, we discovered a restaurant called the Chart House. Housed in the wharf’s oldest surviving structure, the John Hancock Counting House, the restaurant unquestionably capitalizes on its history. The brick and stone buildings have been beautifully restored. There is a cute patio that offers great views, but we chose to make dinner reservations and return later.  

The exposed wood beams, brick, and stone interior of the restaurant offers olde-worlde charm. Soft lighting and nautical decor enhanced the mysterious romance of the Atlantic Ocean. We shared fresh-made crab cakes served with corn relish. Cathryn had lobster bisque and stuffed salmon that she found a tad overcooked for her liking. I love seafood but chose a thick and juicy slab of prime rib. The menu was pricey but the food was delicious and the atmosphere stellar.  

Enjoy Park Life and Al Fresco Malls

We’d seen Boston Common while on the bus and decided to take a stroll through it on our way back to our hotel. It’s a beautiful park, consisting of fifty acres in the middle of the city. From its scenic bridges, one can usually spot swan boats in one of the many small lakes. There are public gardens, the New England Aquarium, and a museum that includes Boston Tea Party Ships. Tons of green space and picnic areas make it the perfect city oasis. This is another “can’t-miss” of things to do in Boston.

A photo of the Boston Commons, one of the cool things to do in Boston.

With our feet getting undeniably tender, we took a hop-on-hop-off tour that included a water ride on one of those silly-looking duck boats. The open-top bus offered fantastic views of the city that were a bit further out, and the boat tour gave us surprising views of the harbor and city skyline from the water. We planned a special stop at the end of our bus tour, hopping off at Cheers, the film location of the hit TV show. I’d hoped to share a beer with Norm, but he wasn’t there. 

 

If you’re looking for a cool outdoor pedestrian mall, check out Quincy Market. Blocks of closed streets line themselves with unique shops, bars, and restaurants. You can spend hours wandering the area and not see everything it has to offer. It’s a great place to check out if you’re looking for things to do in Boston. If you are a baseball fan, you have to see Fenway Park, one of the only remaining original ballparks still standing, and home to the Boston Red Sox since 1912. Professional hockey and basketball also have a base in Boston in the guise of the Boston Bruins and the Boston Celtics. For a somber moment, visit the site of the Boston Marathon bombing. You can clearly see the race’s finish line marked on the pavement. 

Explore the Shore of Massachusetts

If you get bored or don’t find enough things to do in Boston, or are looking for a secluded ocean-front beach, Cape Cod is less than two hours away by car. That was our next stop on this east coast trip. There are neat little towns to see along the coastal road and Provincetown is a totally cool place to kick back and enjoy the sun, sand, and sea. 

If you enjoyed this article, please check out other travel stories on my personal website at www.edmondgagnon.com.

A Tour of Taxco, Mexico: Part Six

Tyler blackMy time in Mexico City was slowly coming to an end. It was nothing short of fantastic. To read more about my trip, make sure you check out part one, part two, part three, part four, and part five.

I had just one last excursion left before heading home. This time, I was visiting Cuernavaca and Taxco, Mexico. I felt pretty excited about this tour because I couldn’t wait to see small-town life within Mexico. Operated by Olympus Tours, I highly recommend the excursion. The tour not only operated smoothly but was full of fantastic knowledge and interesting facts that kept me intrigued throughout the day.

The tour guide picked me up in a small van right at my hostel, Casa Pepe. Interestingly enough, I was the only English speaker in the van, as the other four tourists were from Colombia. Since I speak Spanish, I told our guide that he could stick to Spanish the whole trip so he wouldn’t have to translate back and forth between languages. He seemed relieved, but not before telling me in English that the sunburn on my face looked pretty bad and how much of a typical “gringo” I was. Okay, he didn’t say that exactly but that’s what it felt like! Luckily, the other travelers couldn’t understand him so I wasn’t as embarrassed.

Cuernavaca, Mexico

We set off south of Mexico City passing over mountains before arriving in Cuernavaca an hour later. I won’t lie, I was kind of disappointed right off the bat. We stopped in a small courtyard surrounded by three churches, each built during a different part of Mexico’s history. I do love old churches and cathedrals. That was one of my favorite parts of living in Europe. But I found myself rather bored here. We ended up not seeing anything else in Cuernavaca. After an hour of walking around the courtyard, we hopped on the bus and left. Thankfully, the tour got a whole lot better.

The square in Taxco, Mexico

Taxco, Mexico

After another hour-long car ride, we came up on Taxco, Mexico. Built on the side of a mountain, the town looked absolutely stunning from a distance. I felt really excited to try and make my way to the top to enjoy the views. The van let us off in the center of town and our guide walked us around a bit explaining the history of Taxco. Unfortunately, I was too busy taking pictures and didn’t listen to a single word he had to say. I can really be the worst tourist sometimes.

After showing us some points of interest that we could explore later, our guide took us to a jewelry store specializing in silver. Apparently, the areas surrounding Taxco, Mexico are filled with deposits of silver. The Aztecs used this area to make jewelry and decorations for their gods. To this day, Taxco silver is one of the most sought after metals. I bought a few souvenirs for my family because, well, when would I get this chance again?

A statue of text reading "mexico"

A Few Hours Left

Shortly after, I went to grab lunch with two of the people in our group at a beautiful restaurant overlooking the city. I found it incredibly challenging to converse and eat without constantly taking pictures of the view. The pair — a woman and her father — wanted to do a little bit of exploring in Mexico. I told them how much I’d love to visit Colombia and they gave a lot of great recommendations. It was also great to be able to converse in Spanish again and get some practice in. 

With only a few hours left in Taxco, I decided to walk throughout as much of the town as possible. This was quite the feat considering the town was built on the side of a mountain. My legs were on fire (probably still feeling the effects of hiking a volcano a few days earlier). Nonetheless, it was an amazing experience strolling through small streets and alleys, seeing everyone go about their normal routines. I stopped in some more shops to buy some souvenirs. My aimless wandering even led me to a great view of the Taxco, Mexico cathedral with the valley behind it in the distance. Visiting this town definitely made up for the rather slow beginning of the tour. I highly recommend taking a tour of Taxco. Words cannot accurately describe its beauty.

Time to Go Home

I filled the next morning trying to stuff everything back into my suitcase. I definitely bought way too many souvenirs on this trip, but it was worth it. Although my flight was at 1:00pm, I called an Uber around 10:00am. I figured there would be a lot of traffic on the way to the airport. And boy, was I right. What should have been a 35-minute car ride took a little more than an hour. Luckily my Uber driver was a very friendly man with a lot to talk about, so it helped ease my nerves a little bit.

Now, you’re probably wondering why I’m talking about departing and not just ending this series on a good note. I’m here to tell you my little goof. If you remember from part one, I was given a slip of paper upon arriving in Mexico with all my passport information. It was almost like a tourist visa. I mistakenly threw it away. The lady behind the check-in desk refused to take my bags without that slip of paper. She told me I had to go to the immigration office to file a new one. Panic was setting in.

A beautiful field in Taxco, Mexico

Customs Snafu

I raced downstairs to the office. Of course, there was a line to talk with the agent. He explained that I needed to print out my arrival and departure flight information. So, I had to run across the hallway to pay a guy to print the documents out for me. After finally filling out all the proper paperwork, I then had to pay a hefty amount of pesos for them to authorize me a new tourist visa. And of course, they only took cash. I made sure to spend all my cash before leaving. So, I had to race to the ATM just outside the office. And that’s when my bank decided to decline my withdrawals. I was starting to imagine what my new life in Mexico would look like. At least I spoke the language.

A town square

Lesson Learned

Luckily, my bank sent me a text asking if it was actually me trying to take out money. Once I got that authorized, I was finally able to pay for my replacement tourist visa. My heart rate was through the roof. But, problem solved! I wasn’t going to be stuck in a foreign country. Moral of the story: DON’T THROW AWAY ANY DOCUMENTS YOU GET FROM CUSTOMS.

Thank you for taking the time to read this series on Mexico City. I hope you enjoyed reading about my trip and hopefully, it has inspired you to visit. Mexico City blew all my expectations out of the water. It’s a beautiful city filled with wonderful people and an amazing culture. It’s quite a shame that Mexico City, and the country in general, is viewed so poorly in our media. I’m so glad I decided to see it firsthand and witness just how wrong everything is portrayed. I encourage you to do the same.

New York City’s Top Ten Traveler

 

An image of Moshe, the Top Ten Travel Writer

Who is the Top Ten Traveler?

“I’m a 37-year-old guy named Moshe Huberman. Originally from Israel, I’ve lived in New York City for the last four-and-a-half years and have been happily married to my wonderful husband for almost five. He is the best partner I could have ever asked for in everything we do, including traveling. We have a beautiful seven-year-old mixed-Labrador Retriever, and we live a vegan lifestyle together.”

When did you begin traveling?  

“The first time I got on a plane was at the age of ten with my parents. We were on our way to Paris, France. We landed late at night, and everything was closed — even in the airport! The streets were incredibly dark and far too quiet, so my first impression was a bit traumatic. The next morning, when we woke up to our first day in Paris, however, I felt astounded and extremely charmed by everything. I still remember it so vividly. I learned the metro lines by heart after one day and I led all the conversations in English (not my native language). To boot, I even learned a few words in French from the people at the hotel’s front desk. I developed traveler skills at a wonderfully young age.

An image of New York City from a pier, provided by the Top Ten Travel writer

After that, I traveled a few more times in Europe and in the US with my family. When I finished my service in the IDF at the age of 21, I packed my bag and flew to Australia, then New Zealand, for three months. That trip was my first big trip as an independent traveler.”

What started your travel bug?

“I guess it was the first trip to Paris with my parents. Ever since I was a young kid I was a big fan of the world’s countries and cultures. I memorized the world’s capitals and flags. Plus, I read all the volumes of the Geographical Encyclopedia. My older siblings’ Atlas was my favorite book. I always felt excited to watch the Olympics’ opening ceremony just for the Parade of Nations. I had, and still have, the world’s map on my bedroom wall.

An image of New York City from the River, provided by the Top Ten Travel writer

So, the moment I could leave my country for the first time to start seeing and experiencing the things I had only been reading about, was mind-blowing. From there, I just had to see more.”

Why do you like traveling?

“I always felt fascinated by diversity. I grew up in Israel. It’s a small country, but it has an amazing mixture of cultures. The Jews in Israel came from all over the world, bringing their unique traditions, stories, and foods. Even my family’s roots are from both Syria and Poland, which I always liked to explore with my grandparents — where did they come from? What was their childhood like? Etc. For me, traveling is the ability to take this exploration one step further and get to know the diversity of the entire world. I want to know and see how other people live, what their history is, what language they speak, what religion they practice, and, of course, what food they eat.”

Why are you The Top Ten Traveler?

“After I graduated from university and started my first real job, I realized that I could not travel three to four months out of a year anymore. My trips now must align with the vacation days I receive and with my work responsibilities. It changed my perception:  more short trips in a year, rather than one exceptionally long. Now, when taking shorter trips, your time is limited. You need to know well in advance what you want to see and do. This is where the top ten come in. Ten is a magical number; if there are not ten things to see or do in a place, it’s not worth going. If there are more, I really tried to focus on the top ten things I could not miss.

When I started The Top Ten Traveler, I did it for two main reasons. First, to share my experiences and to re-experience them through writing. Secondly, to give people an easy summary of the main ten things to see and do in each destination. I think listing the top ten things is easier to read, easier to remember, and easier to execute when you travel.”

What is the best trip you have taken in the last five years and why?

“I would say my trip to Playa del Carmen and Cancun, Mexico. On one hand, it was the first trip in which I have learned how to relax on the beach for a few hours without becoming bored. On the other hand, we traveled and learned about the interesting history of the Mayan culture in sites like Chichen Itza and the ruins of Tulum. Plus, the Mexican food was amazing. It was the perfect combination of exploration, relaxation, shopping, and partying.”

An image of Moshe, the Top Ten Travel writer, at a Mayan ruin.

If you had one place to recommend to someone who has never traveled before what would it be?

“That is an easy one:  Argentina. It is an amazing country for travelers (but not for living, unfortunately). It is huge and has everything to offer from glaciers to deserts, from mountains to beaches, from awesome cities to a beautiful countryside. The people are some of the nicest and warmest in the world. It is one of the safest countries in South America (though you always need to keep your eyes open when you travel, all over the world) and it is relatively cheap, so you can get more with your foreign currency. Therefore, for a first-time traveler, this is the ideal place.”

Which place do you want to visit the most but haven’t had the chance yet?

“There are so many places in the world that I want to visit, each for its own unique reasons. However, if I need to choose only one, it would be Syria. Although not the country you would think about for traveling, I feel really intrigued to see where my family came from. More than that, I follow other people who traveled in Syria and they always fall in love with this country. The food is said to be one of the best in the world (which I grew up on, so I can definitely relate to that). They also have many historical and archaeological sites, like Palmyra, which dates back to over 3,000 years ago, and the old city of Aleppo, which has now been partially destroyed after the war.”

You live in New York City — Is this by choice or for work?

“My workplace relocated me from Israel to New York City at the end of 2015. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live abroad, so we jumped on it. After all, exploration is at the heart of the Top Ten Traveler. I didn’t know how the move would affect my husband and I as a young couple, but after experiencing the New York City way of life, we liked it and decided to stay. New York City is amazing and it never ceases to surprise me. I still don’t think I know all of its hidden gems.”

An image of a New York City bridge, provided by the Top Ten Travel Writer

What would you recommend to do if someone only had a day to visit New York City?

“Explore the city by foot. The streets and avenues of the city are amazing and different. Fifth Avenue is nothing like Ninth Avenue and is nothing like the streets of Soho, Financial District, or other neighborhoods. So strolling between them, you can catch all the important landmarks of the city while also enjoying the unique charm of each area or neighborhood. I once had a 12-hour layover in the city on my way from Israel to Argentina. To kill some time, I walked from Central Park to Battery Park, just to see the statue of Liberty. It was so much fun, and on the second flight, I slept like a baby. For a lunch or dinner break, I’d recommend trying one of my favorite vegan restaurants in the city, as described in my Top 10 Vegan Restaurants in New York City post.”

What would you recommend a frequent traveler to do in New York City?

“Many people come to New York City to watch a show on Broadway. I have watched a few and I really love the theater, but there are crazier and more special theatrical experiences than Broadway. One that comes to mind is Sleep No More. It’s an interactive show performed in a five-story building designed to look like an old hotel. You can follow the actors and move from one scene to another whenever you want. Two tips: come in your sneakers and walk alone.”

by Moshe Huberman

Visit Moshe’s website, The Top Ten Traveler, to find the top ten best sites to visit on your next travel destination!