On my second day in Phnom Penh I got the same trusted tuktuk driver but he seemed a bit angry at me! Only when we arrived back in the hotel did I find out why. His English is not that good so it took a while to understand. I had said ten o’clock for today and he went “okay okay”. He seems to have been under the impression that I don’t ask at the hotel desk for the tour but him directly. I didn’t pick up on that the day before. So the second morning I asked the hotel reception again and paid them instead of him. No clue how much margin the hotel takes for giving him the job. But thus I got it that I was supposed to pay him directly and not the hotel.
As for the contents, the tuktuk ride led me to the shores of the mighty Mekong river. The plan was to get onto the Silk Island, its real name is Koh Dach, which is an island inside the Mekong river. The Mekong is a stunning 4350 km long and parts a little for this island, so what you see on the pics is only roughly half of the river.
There are no bridges to Koh Dach and you have to go by ferry, a very old and rickety affair. LOL. The pictures don’t express the age of these vessels or the noise of their sputtering Diesel engines.
Once on the island my driver brought me to a silk farm where a nice guy explained to me (and a group of Italians) about how silk is made. Of course I knew about the worms but not about the entirety of the process. The worms, or rather caterpillars are eating only mulberry leaves for about 30 days, then they turn from white to yellow and cocoon, once they become moths they mate, lay eggs and die. They live for around 45 days in total.
Now, if you want to get silk you have to balance your stock of worms to let some become moths to continue the process and the rest you throw into boiling water and cook them. The traditional process is then to take an eggplant leave and dip it into the hot water picking up threads. About twenty of them you twirl and then spin them into a thread. One cocoon yields up to 500 meters of thread. The outer layer of the cocoon is a bit rougher and used for e.g. rugs. The inner part of the cocoon is softer and spun into a thread for clothes. Then you dye the yellow threads into the desired colors and start weaving. A four meter sarong with a two colored pattern such as this peacock design takes a month to finish, two meter scarves with less of a pattern or none take ten days, they said.
Despite that they sold the scarves for 20 USD and I didn’t even haggle (I don’t like haggling). I’m pretty sure I’d pay double or triple or even more for that in Japan. The guy explaining things to us said he was a “volunteer” and was supporting his university studies with explaining things to tourists and was also improving his (already pretty good) English. The weaving ladies were all widows, he said, who are working at this place as a part of a support program for them. True or not, they make beautiful stuff and it was very interesting to see the process of silk being made the “old” way. I just wonder how the hell our ancestors came upon the idea to boil those cocoons and make threads out of them for cloth. That was quite some invention / discovery.
On the way back to town, I asked my driver to drop me off once more at the national museum, I really like that building and it’s garden and the day before stayed only thirty minutes during the busy day.
That day I stayed for an hour and also borrowed an audio guide and listened to some of the explanations for the artifacts on display. During that audio description, they also said that the museum, which came into existence around 1920 was closed during the four years of the Khmer Rouge rule, I’m surprised they just closed it and didn’t burn it to the ground. Luckily they refrained from doing stuff like that…