Koh Dach – Silk Island
Cambodia is known for many things; lovely people, ancient temples, beautiful landscapes, intricate craftsmanship… including silk production and weaving. Koh Dach, or Silk Island, lies in the Mekong River approximately 15 km from Phnom Penh. Two friends, Ania from Poland and Patricia from Spain, and I rented bicycles and took a day trip to Koh Dach, first taking a ferry to Mekong Island, then riding the length of Mekong Island to reach a second ferry to take us to our final destination. Upon arrival on Koh Dach we met a woman who was riding to the market to sell her silk, but decided to turn around and show us to her village (as she was probably going to make more of a profit from us than from the market). Most of the homes on the island have wooden looms underneath (as they are all on stilts), as well as a space to eat (people here tend to eat on low, large tables, sitting cross legged with the shared food in the center– sorry Mom, your rule of ‘never put your bottom where your food is’ doesn’t apply here) and hammocks for resting.
Once we arrived to this woman’s house, she showed us how they weave the silk (they used to keep the silk worms as well, but the process became too expensive, so they now buy the silk thread from Vietnam) and her family laid out all of the scarves they had available. Of course we proceeded to buy lots of pieces, as it is so nice to buy directly from the manufacturers, especially when they are individual families. A few other women and young girls came by to sell as well, so there were a lot of chaotic but friendly dealings going on! After purchasing some items, we accompanied another young woman across the street to visit her home and to meet her family. There we sat for some time, chatting and eating sweet bananas (miniature bananas that are very sweet and delicious!). We met the woman’s mother, friends, sisters, children… they allowed us to peek into their houses and explained a bit about the process of spinning and weaving silk. We then sat for a while longer and talked as they brought us coconuts to quench our thirst, before heading out on our bikes to explore more of the island.
Two of the young women accompanied us on their bicycles as we rode down the island towards the shore. We started out, and before we had traveled very far, we suddenly came upon a big celebration with drums and loud speakers and boys dressed in what you would think of as a traditional Chinese dragon costume. This parade (which ended up consisting of many groups of performers, singers, drummers, etc), we believe, was to celebrate the rainy season, although this was hard to confirm as no one we were with really spoke any English. The performers would stop in front of each house and do a dance, and people would come out and place money into the dragon’s mouth. As they stopped in front of us, the dragon raced up and seemed to swallow me whole! I diligently placed my dollar in its mouth and it proceeded to do a nice dance (with four amazingly coordinated legs).
We passed numerous other groups performing along the route until we emerged in the open fields of rice and arrived at the river bank. The day was hot and we were tired, so after visiting the river side we saddled our bicycles and rode the length of the island back to the ferry (of course not without stopping at a temple to take a few photos).
The amazing friendliness and hospitality of people is always so stunningly beautiful. The women we joined for the day were not only there to make a sale, but they were inquisitive about where we came from and found the experience a great opportunity to practice their English skills. The two women, 25 and 26, both with young children, take English lessons with a teacher in the village. They took out their notebooks and practiced asking us questions such as “How are you, where you come from?” and saying “You teach me English for free, I no pay, because I love you forever”. They brought us bananas and coconuts and refused any payment we offered, instead insisting that we give it to the performers along the road. Although these ladies were vivacious business women, they were also remarkably thoughtful and exuded a great feeling of warmth.