Humans, I failed. I learned a big lesson from it though so, that’s what matters. What I learned is properly researching sites/destinations is very important to avoid potentially unethical practices. I’ll explain...
Paul, my tuk tuk driver who took me around to The Killing Fields on Tuesday, offered to take me to silk island. It was a tour I had seen earlier in the day and wanted to do it because I didn’t know how silk was made and now seemed like a good time to learn. Paul mentioning it was a great site to visit felt like it was meant to be so, I haggled him down to a good price and we were off.
On our way, he took me to see the golden temple which was huge and allll gold, as you could imagine from the name. When I climbed up the stairs, I was drawn outside as I heard a monk chanting. I will say seeing monks draped in marigold robes walking down the street is still a cool sighting to me so, hearing one chanting was extra exciting. This monk was not only chanting he was throwing water over a young man sitting below him and chanting over him. I watched for awhile, explored the temple and then went down to Paul to ask what it all meant. When a person is hurting, sick, or feeling bad they go to the temple to have a monk do the ritual i witnessed and it’s supposed to bring them good luck. I’m curious if Westners can do it..I like good luck.
After the temple, we found our way to the boat. Right outside the boat dock there was a local woman hocking her street food and it smelled SOOOO good, like hot caramel or maybe chocolate. It smelled amazing. I asked Paul what it was and he explained it was rice, wrapped around a banana and grilled inside banana leaves. He asked if I waned one. Uh, duh. The woman unwrapped the banana leaves, pulled out the pipping hot Noam ensaum jayk and put it on a fresh banana leaf for me. It was incredoble! I would have never put banana and rice together mysrelf but, the combo works. It was also my first street food! I felt like a real traveler.
After my grabbing my snack, we drove the tuk tuk straight on to the boat. Yep, straight on the barge type boat and so did trucks and motorbikes and we all sailed across the river to Silk island together. It is a very convienent way to travel! We drove right off as soon as we docked and were on our merry way. Our first stop was to Nali’s loom and shop. Nail and her family live in an open air garage and right smack in the middle is a HUGE wooden loom where Nali and her sister Nati weave silk scarves. As I arrived, Nati was working on a scarf and Nali explained to me how they make the scarves using the loom. It’s a pretty cool process! After a quick show and tell, they immediately brought out all their BEAUTIFUL, hand woven, scarves for me to purchase. They were pretty pushy but, the scarves were beautiful. Also, standing in their home which had no walls or real floors, I felt like buying scarves wold be a really nice way to contribute. I bought one silk and two cotton, all incredible! Once, I bought my share, they tried talking me into more!, we bid farewell. On our way out, they showed me the bright pink and purple flowers lining the driveway and told me they used those flowers for the dye! Pretty cool.
After Nali’s house, Paul took me to the main supplier of silk the island aptly called, Silk Island. A very sweet man greeted me after I purchased my ticket to get in ($1) and walked me through the grounds, explaining how silk gets made. First, he showed me all of the mulberry trees they have on the property because mulberry leaves are what the silk worms eat! The silkworms, from the time they hatch as larva and until they start to cocooon, are kept in big weaved baskets on beds and beds of mulberry leaves allowing them to eat to their hears content. Apparently, silk worms are very hungry and go through A LOT of Mulberry leaves. Once they have eaten their fair share and they hear natures call, they start to spit silk thread out of their mouth and it begins to wrap around their head, creating a cocoon. After they have done their magic transformation into a butterfly, the butterfly eats his way through the top of the silk and pops out, leaving behind the raw silk, outside of the cocoon and more rough to touch, and the inner silk of the cocooon which is very soft. A lot of the cocoons are a bright gold color and is why gold is one of the traditional silk colors. The butterflies can’t actually fly very much because they have bigger bodies than their wings. They flit around until they find a mate, mate, lay eggs and the process starts over.
However, this is where the fail comes in. 20% of their silk worms get to complete their life process and turn into butterflies, mate and lay eggs. 80% of the worms make it to the cocoon and then once in their cocoons, the silk farmers lay out the cocoons in the hot sun, killing the worms inside (the guide explained they do it this way, versus submerging them in hot water because they are Buddhist and it’s more humane). The reason for this is, once the butterfly has eaten through the top of the cocoon, silk farmers can no longer spin the silk into thread, and the cocoon is useless to them. Apparently, the cocoon is one long piece of silk. Isn’t that amazing?! So, once it gets chomped by the butterfly, the piece breaks. I felt terrible for the poor silk worms getting essentially burned to death in their little cocoons so I could buy a pretty scarf. And I finally understood why vegans don’t wear silk. After my guide dropped the murder bomb he went on to show me the looms and I met some of the ladies who worked there. From there, he took me into the show room to see all their scarves and table clothes but, I didn’t purchase any. I felt so bad for the worms! And just when I thought it couldn’t get worse....my guide directed me to the monkey’s.
In this silk farm, they have a row of cages and in the cages are monkeys, peacocks, toucans and porcupines (weird). I was devastated to see all of these beautiful creatures behind bars. My guide even referred to the cages as prison! The worst part is the monkeys would reach their little hands through the bars and try to reach for my hand. Their hands look so much like ours, down to the little finger nails. They would try to bit the bars and I could see their teeth and mouths looked a lot like ours. I asked why they were keeping these animals in cages when they deserved to be free and my guide said they wanted tourists to “see the animals of Cambodia.” My heart sank. I had vowed to not visit any establishment that had animals in cages or was abusing them in anyway and I was so mad at myself for not researching more about this particular place and giving them money. The guide said that many of the people who come to visit ask the same thing and because of this the facility is working on getting a permit to create more a sanctuary for the animals so, they have more room to be free. However, I say just let them be FREEEEEEEEE!
I did enjoy the island, it was beautiful and more rural and interesting to see. I found it interesting to see how silk is made and the meet some of the small business owners making the silk scarves that Cambodia is known for but, I learned my lesson on not researching locations before visiting. Now, I just wish I could go free those poor moneys, birds and porcupines.