Cambodia: A visit to a floating village

Paddling through Chong Khneas in Tonle Sap

Paddling through Chong Kneas in Tonle Sap

For those who may have noticed, most of my travel trails covers a lot of UNESCO sites. I’m pretty sure you can never go wrong visiting one of their sites listed on their heritage list. In Cambodia, the Angkor Archaeological Park is not the sole UNESCO site in the area, nearby is the presence of a Great Lake, which helped the kingdom of Angkor Build their impressive structures and empire akin to how the Nile River build the Pyramids and the empire in Egypt. Tonle Sap, which means Large Fresh Water Lake, is the largest lake in South East Asia and was declared a UNESCO biosphere back in 1997. So a visit to Cambodia wouldn’t be complete without having visited this very important site and take a glimpse of life by this great lake.

Wood gatherers

Wood gatherers

It was already afternoon when we decided to visit one of the floating villages in Tonle Sap. We rode on a tuk-tuk from our hotel and headed out into the country side. The 11-15km Tuk-tuk ride going there cost around US$5 back and forth from Siem Reap. It was a dusty country side road where you could clearly see the poverty and realize that despite the booming tourism and structures in Siem Reap, Cambodia is still a third world country. Along side the road are shanty houses and some stilt houses as well. It was a sad sight really.

A floating school

A floating school

We were first dropped off at a floating village registration center. There we paid a whopping US$15 for each of us for a boat ride to Chong Kneas. “Man that was a ripoff!” my friend said. I also think that this was a Tourist Trap at that time. I told them that we wanted to visit Kampong Phleuk floating village, but they said that it’s already late so we have to settle for Chong Kneas instead. We were in no position to complain though so we paid and headed off to another short drive to the docks. Chong Kneas has a reputation for being too touristy, but I guess if this is what time would allow, it’s better than nothing. A kid who seemed to speak acceptable English took our tickets and guided us to our boat. A small boat for that matter with a shade! I guess we paid that certain amount since there’s only 2 of us along with the boatman and the kid who served as our guide.

A typical household

A typical household

The water out of the docks was muddy. Our boat easily rocks on when waves come along. And when a large boats pass by, I almost thought that the boat would turn. I was worried since I don’t even have my dry bag with me for my camera. Anyways, getting used to it, we navigated through the canal. From there we could already see some locals on their boats, some doing fishing, others have some wood. And why do those other tourist have a large boat while they are alone?!

A floating sari-sari store

A floating sari-sari store

Shortly on our way out of the canal towards the open lake we could see some floating structures ahead. It was the school grounds, err water. It was very interesting as their basketball court is also floating. I wonder how it’s like to study there with the ground gently rocking and all. I could easily doze off during lectures.

An excited dog greets his owner

An excited dog greets his owner

Soon we were out into the open lake. I thought it was gonna rain at that time since the sky darkened a bit, but good thing it didn’t. The scene somehow reminded me of a boat ride in Laguna lake, but as we approach the villages it was totally different, it was a large community floating on the center of the lake. The kid was explaining there were even several villages there whose names I could no longer remember.

A one dollar banana vendor

A one dollar banana vendor

On our way to the village we were passing by this boat then suddenly these girls who were riding a smaller boat grabbed the side of our boat. Hey, that’s dangerous! While we were speeding they were holding on to our boat while the others were selling us Bananas and soft drinks. As soon as they found out that we have no intention of buying they let go. Wow! Even the vendors here are still persistent.

Approaching a restaurant and souvenir shop

Approaching a restaurant and souvenir shop

I must admit that this boat ride turns out to be interesting as we go along (or maybe because there weren’t that many tourist around). The people here live on what we call houseboats. Their community have different floating facilities as well like a store, electronics and repair shop, police head quarters, restaurants even a catholic church.

Vendors by the restaurant dock

Vendors by the restaurant dock

As we go around the village, we saw how they go through their everyday lives, from preparing meals, having board games, pets greeting their owners or just hanging out on their lofts. I saw some antennas in their houses and was wondering how could they watch TVs when there’s no electricity in the area. Well each houses have fuel powered generators.

Top view of the vendors

Top view of the vendors

Later we stopped by a restaurant selling souvenirs and they also have some information about the biodiversity on Tonle Sap lake. They even have crocodiles there on display. Also present are hordes of vendors coherently repeating their “Just one dolla'” hymn to any tourist visiting the place. Good thing they were not allowed to go up the restaurant docks though, but it was a really sad sight.

A landmine victim waves good bye

A landmine victim on a tin boat waves good bye

While the floating village like Chong Kneas is picturesque, is also a display of the reality of poverty on a third world country. The people living here have a harsh life and their living pattern depends on the swell of the lake. During dry season about 5000 of these houseboats move within the lake but when the snow in Himalayas melts or the rainy season comes in, they move to narrow canals heading inland when the water rises. Their dwellings doesn’t even have proper sanitations which could open them up to a lot disease. Crocodiles are also an occasional threat. But the people here have tolerated this kind of life since fishing is their main livelihood. And some Vietnamese communities here who came from the Mekong River have been here longer and have gotten used to this kind of life.

30 Responses to “Cambodia: A visit to a floating village”

  1. this is the best series i’ve seen so far. the text and the photos are both very informative. it’s like i can see the big picture just by going through your narratives, ang galing. lahat ng photos super sa ganda…the last one is haunting. i love those conical hats, ganyan din sila sa Vietnam di ba? pang National Geo ang mga kuha mo dito pramis. okay ba ito sa print? pwedeng postcards. mauuna ako sa pila para bumili, hehehe.

    Reply
  2. hmmm… very interesting… i thought sa thailand lang may floating market, dito pala a whole village… the last photo was very moving… good job ferdz…

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  3. as always, a compelling post replete with excellent accounts and images. paglaki ko, gagayahin kita ferdz, hahaha. impressive work bro!

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  4. Great shots pal.. THey’re pics fitting for a magazine :) Wonder how it is to live in a floating house, let along the water movement that would literally “rock the boat” anytime :)

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  5. im amused with the floating school… but reality bites… they dont have a nice situation out there. i hope one day… it will improve..

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  6. I think being here in Cambodia, the experience would be amazing, sad, devastating and fantastic, all in one.

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  7. ngayon ko lalo na appreciate na kahit magulo sa pinas ay mapalad pa rin tayo dahil hindi tayo nabubuhay sa floating na yan. pero sana yung buhay nila dyan sa cambodia kahit nasa floating structures lang sila ay di singulo ng politika dito sa pinas :)

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  8. On the rip-offs, as they say… TIC (This is Cambodia). But it really is an exciting country, isn’t it? Great pictures of the Floating Village! I’ve never been there myself… but am so afraid of falling off the lake. :)

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  9. nagbalik tanaw ako sa aking asian history subject nuong highschool . at napa reflect sa mga pics mo. kahit saan man may puwang ng survival. salamat po!

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  10. I just looked up tonle Sap in wikipedia. Thanks for the info on this fascinating ecosystem. Great pics as usual.

    Those persistent banana salesladies remind me of real estate salespeople here in the states….. very persistent. hehe

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  11. It is a very interesting village. I don’t think I can live in a floating house though. I’ll get seasick. :)

    I was touched by that last picture. Very sad for that child.

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  12. Your national-geographic-like entries are great. But I want to see some personal entries. Rant, as you want, if you wish. If you want to… ;p

    I guess what you do is who you are. =)

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  13. the good thing about your pix is they captured the actual, unedited snapshots of life in Cambodia. man, this post makes me want to go to Cambodia and take some pix, too.

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  14. boy this is one of a kind UNESCO site.

    it is great for us to see an entire village floating but i wonder, given other options, will the locals still choose to live in this place?

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  15. hi ferdz! thank you for sharing this… very informative and the pictures are great…

    i have read this floating village once in a reader’s digest, some of the the houseboats are so small that all you can do is just to sit when inside it… there ‘s one tourist, an american doanated a big houseboat to 3 vietnamese girls ages 13, 14 and 15 whom had been abondoned by their parents..

    and seeing this floating village in your blog seems more real to me

    keep on blogging :D

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  16. ng makita ko ang larawan.. nasabi kong, “mahal ko ang pinas” at nagpapasalamat akong dito ako lumaki…

    great pics! thanks for the infos… Ü

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  17. These are truly great pictures. Looking at them, I can almost feel the place. I wonder if mothers worry about their babies crawling right off the edge of their houses and drown.

    On the other hand, it must also be relaxing with the gentle rocking of the water.

    For me, I’ll be hanging on the edge, puking my guts out. Rocking anything just makes me sea-sick. I’m not a very good sailor, unless it’s a really big boat and I can’t feel the motion of the water.

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  18. i always want to visit this lake….but have no chance…glad to get to know more about this place from u…very enjoy it…..thanks:-)) last shot very emotional…kinda sad.

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  19. The pictures are insane (as usual). Ang galing! It’s a good call to focus on Tonle Sap for a change. Everyone else I know chose to gush exclusively about Angkor.

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  20. That last picture of the landmine victim floating on a basin and using his good hand to wave at you is just so powerful. Galeng mo ser!

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  21. You are one talented young man. I have seen the pictures you took in Anawangin. Really breathtaking.

    The story and pictures you took in Cambodia, very informative and different from the usual stuff I read about Cambodia. Galing! I hope to read and see more pictures on you next trip.

    Reply
  22. Jean Jaskierny

    I just got back from Cambodia and visited the floating village. Evidently it’s existence is recorded in carvings at the Bayon Wat so it’s been a way of life for centuries. The water is filthy everywhere in Cambodia, as it was in at least this part of the Tonle Sap – same same but different as they say.

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  23. barauxe

    hey..don’t you know guys we also have floating village here in the philippines. sa Agusan marsh…and living in these floating houses is becoming a tradition that people in there want to cherish and preserve. Hope you’ll see it, I’ve seen it coz Im making my thesis about it.:))It’s very peaceful in there. And according to them, people might think they’re unfortunate (just like in cambodia), but actually they’re living so good and simple.:)

    Reply

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