Sreyneang is our beautiful tour guide. She said her name means “she’s a lady”. Jokingly, she said that she thinks her parents wanted to make sure she knew it and would stay that way.
Sreyneang studied for nine years in the Royal Ballet. She even toured the United States in Boston, LA and DC for seven weeks in order to demonstrate the art of Apsara dancing.
Sreyneang wanted to go to school for part of the day, but her dance instructors said that she could not. The culture doesn’t really encourage the girls to study. It is getting better as most girls in the city go to school and 50% of the rurals girls do also. They don’t see the need when they are going to cook and clean and farm and fish. Also, they are nervous that their girls will meet boys in high school and will have sex, and then they will not be able to marry. She also was not allowed to see her family very often. So she quit. She wants freedom. Her story continues…
We stopped by one of the roadside stands waving bamboo sticks at us. They are full of sticky rice with beans. People buy them to take to the fields or back to the city.
Our guide chose a woman and she was all smiles to see a van stop at her stand. She has three children – 2 sons and one daughter. Her husband was killed in a tractor accident on the busy road. Sreyneang tries to support her as she has no other way to raise money for her family.
We stopped at a sweets store where we tried Phnom Penh money cakes, dried mango, and Cambodian donuts. We took a backroom tour. They cover the food with newspaper to keep flies off. There was a two-week-old baby boy that was under removable netting like you might use at a picnic.
We walked through a fishing village called Kampong Khleang to board our boat to the Tonle Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. It’s five times as large during the rainy season and smaller in the dry season as the water flow reverses direction.
This is the beginning of the dry season and the water around Tonle Sap Lake used to come as high as the bridges and houses. It is at lower levels and now they harvest clams and snails.
Here is a woman smoking catfish.
And a man getting a haircut. They leave hair on the floor. Blonde hair is especially prized.
We walk to the pier. All the senses are alive.
All aboard! Our tour guide Sreyneang is a beauty, and the captain is very accomplished at 13 years old. We can tell that she is/was a dancer as all of her hand movements are very fluid and artistic.
Sreyneang works with Bridge of Life which provides learning for rural children.
She asked us to not take pictures of the children. They often are not wearing clothes. This was proved to us as we were greeted by two young boys wearing nothing but backpacks. The school that we visited was for the youngest called pre-primary which was like kindergarten. After one year they take an exam. If they pass, they go on to the next school.
In the rural part of the country, it is not unusual for the families to have 7 to 10 children whereas in the city, they only have 1 to 2 mainly because it is very expensive to live in the city.
Bridge of Life was established in 2009, and by 2013 they had three schools. The teacher lives in the school. The children are not required to wear uniforms. We visited a Bridge of Life School that we accessed by boat and heard more about this amazing program.
To attend high school, they must take a boat. It takes about 8 to 10 people to row the boat.
In 2016 Bridge of Life started giving tours and added computer and sewing classes. About 30 attend high school.
Rural parents don’t value education. They only care about money which to them means working.
In 2015 there was a donation that allowed for 64 water filters to be installed. During the dry season the water gets low and more polluted. One needs lots of tanks which are very expensive if one plans to store water.
When asked about government corruption she responded 1000%.
Remember the heartbreaking scenes of people trying to leave Vietnam? Some of the Vietnamese boat people fled into Cambodia along the Mekong River. They don’t have passports.
They continue to live on their boats and have a floating village complete with a school and police station. We saw so many little children driving and riding on boats.
The day was ending as we cruised out toward Tonle Sap Lake.
Sreyneang timed it just right as we were able to witness an amazing never-seen-anything-like-it sunset.
Sreyneang said that so many girls become sugar babies. Many women are unhappy in their marriages, but they have no way to support themselves. Some wealthy men that are married have many mistresses.
Sreyneang wants to become financially independent so that her ability to have an income will allow her to chose her own destiny. For her, employment, then education as a tour guide is her goal. In fact, we have not see ANY tour guides that were woman.
She has been instrumental in starting the Lavender Jeep Company. She is pictured on the top on the About Us page.
The fact that she can drive a Jeep has become empowering to the young girls in the villages that see her drive up. If Sreyneang can do that, I can, too.
She is a pioneer and a great role model to Cambodian women. We gave her a big tip and told her to follow her dreams.