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A Visit to Silk Island (Koh Dach) and Exploring Phnom Penh, Cambodia

An Excursion from Phnom Penh to Silk Island


Since my arrival from the United States, I’ve been exhausted.  My sleep schedule has totally flipped, leaving me unable to stay awake during the day and mostly up all night.  I’ve hardly ventured from my guesthouse but still feel overloaded.  And obviously more anxious than I consciously realized, startling myself awake frequently with nightmares. My thoughts about Cambodia are unfairly turning negative and I haven’t even been anywhere!  So today, I’m determined to get out, stay awake no matter what, and explore with an open mind!  Destination: Silk Island.


Traveling to Silk Island on the Mekong River

Traveling to Silk Island on the Mekong River


The Trip up the Mekong River to Silk Island (Koh Dach)


Tyler was game to join me for this getaway.  So we met up at my guesthouse, took a tuk-tuk to the riverfront, and easily found a boat that would take us to “Silk Island” for $10 each round-trip.  The boat left with only eight passengers, each of us seated on our own lawn chair.  We headed out on the Tonle Sap River before we entered the Mekong River and headed north for about an hour.


Along the way, we saw dilapidated fishing boats with families on board and the backdrop of gigantic hotels under construction, refineries and the Phnom Penh cityscape.  The contrasts here are striking.


The Mekong River is massive. Once outside of the city, its banks are lush and green with banana trees and other neon-green plants and trees.


Branch where Tonie Sap meets the Mekong River

Branch where Tonie Sap meets the Mekong River


Arriving at the shore we jump into a tuk-tuk and the driver takes us to “Silk Island” which offers a cheesy tour/showcase of some incredible silk production and weaving.  It’s definitely a tourist trap attraction and one that feels staged and contrived.  You can see how the people farm silkworms, placing them in bunches of sticks. Then the silkworms go about their business of making silk cocoons.  The worms are fed with mulberry leaves.  Amazingly, one cocoon can unravel to an impossibly-fine string of silk 100 meters long!


We watched the local women weave with the silk.  The looms are amazing wooden contraptions and the technique looks extremely complicated, the labor difficult and tedious.  The fabric they were producing was incredibly beautiful, seeming to glow from the inside out.


Weaving silk, Koh Dach, Cambodia

Weaving silk, Koh Dach, Cambodia


The tour was oddly short and not worth the trip from Phnom Penh if a genuine cultural experience is your goal.  But no matter, I really enjoyed the tuk-tuk ride and the boat ride and just a chance to see the countryside. All throughout the island, tiny children would wave and yell “hello!”  The houses, built on stilts, reminded me very much of the river houses along the Amazon in Peru.  Families, dogs, cats, cows, and chickens all live together in open spaces below thatched roofs.


Back on the boat, we watched people wash cattle in the river, using bunches of hay in the hand to scrub them.


Washing the cattle in Koh Dach, Cambodia

Washing the cattle in Koh Dach, Cambodia


Back in Phnom Penh


Tyler took me to a great Indonesian restaurant near the riverfront and we ate delicious vegetarian food.  I was happy that I went to the bathroom after the meal only to discover roaches scurrying about the kitchen and a bathroom with a squat toilet, 1/4 inch of water on the floor, no toilet paper, and no soap!  Remind me to wear diapers from here on out.  The food was good though!


"Sugarcane Street" in Phnom Penh

“Sugarcane Street” in Phnom Penh


We walked down “sugarcane street” and Tyler ordered two sugarcane juices from a street vendor who fed big stalks into what looked like an antique press.  Two minutes later and voilà – juice!  It was so sweet and refreshing!  Similar to a flat soda, but fresh and tasty.


We moved on to an outdoor market where all kinds of (exotic to me) produce, meat and fish was sold.  Tyler bought some jackfruit for me to try.  Waxy and delicious!


Towards the end of the market was a dumpster and beside that there were naked, barefoot children running around and adults living in squalor in open sheds the size of a small closet.  This abject poverty is not something I’m handling well.  It’s so odd to see this level of poverty alongside people on holiday reveling in “cheap” food and drink.  Including myself.  Reconciling this disparity will be a challenge.  Is that even possible?


I stayed awake all day and went to bed at a proper time.  Back in the saddle again.  Onward!


Photos of Silk Island and Phnom Phen:


  1. Travel can be hard work! Sometimes you just have to force yourself to get out there and make the best of it. Sounds like the effort paid off for you. Thanks for sharing the photos, Laura.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting Peter!

  2. Those are some stunning images, one day I hope to go east!

    • Thanks Matt! It’s really an experience. I’d love to see your photographic talent let loose on this place.

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