Sunday, February 04, 2007

Silk Village across the Tonle Sap

Today, Sophon took us to a village across the Japanese Friendship Bridge to show us how silk is woven. The village is similar to others all over the country [for Singaporeans and Malaysians: villages here are just like Malay kampungs, with wooden houses on stilts to avoid the floods. But I am told that “kampong”, as in “Kampong Thom”, means “port” in Khmer]. This village has a congregation of houses on stilts with looms below.

We had breakfast at one of the popular Khmer restaurants across the bridge. There are many, many guesthouses and restaurants here. The prices are not especially cheap, which makes it perplexing why Khmers would travel all the way here for a meal. Sophon says it is the fresh air, but with all the motobikes, it didn’t seem that fresh to me…Apparently, the guesthouses are there also for Khmer men who have mistresses over that side of the river...

I learned that the silk threads are loaned to the weavers by middlemen, because they’re too expensive. It’s too much for the weavers, who are given the thread by the middlemen. At the end of the month, the weavers are paid only for their labour. Each person can make two parcels of cloth (each parcel is about 1m x 3.6m) a day.

There are varying qualities of silk, and you can expect to pay between USD5 and USD9 per metre for pure silk. Most of the weavers in that village though, use a combination of polyester and silk threads, which is much cheaper.

To get to the village, you have to first get across the Tonle Sap. We took Sophal’s tuktuk across the Japanese Friendship Bridge then travelled for about 20 mins until we reached a bit of road that led to a ferry. The ferry would take us across another River, I assume it's the Mekong this time. There are no signs to the ferry "terminal", just a shack with a few men and their motos. The men were playing cards when we arrived and offered to show us around the village and then take us back to Phnom Penh for USD6 a moto. It’s pricey but cheaper than what some of my foreign friends paid (USD25 each) for an organised tour to visit the village.

The ferry we took had benches all around it with a lot of space in the centre for motos to get on. It took us just 10 mins to get across and once across the motodops took us to a few houses where we could watch the silk being woven and also buy the products. I bought a parcel of silk mixed with polyester that was 7.2m long for USD20 from one house. A parcel of pure silk was going for USD120—too much for me!

On the way back on the ferry, one of the motodops told Sophon that a Frenchman had bought a piece of land by the river and built a house there. The poor fellow's house then fell into the river during the rainy season!

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