Originally just a detour on the way to Siem Reap, the floating villages on the Tonle Sap turn out to be an almost magical experience. At least unlike anything I have ever seen before. Less touristy and a glimpse of rural life, traditional but of course touched by recent changes. Driving through the villages leading up to Tonle Sap (a river going all the way from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap but spreading out into a wide, almost lake-like body of water), we see more and more houses built on wooden stilts, elevated high above the ground. It is a reminder that rainy season is dominating the weather for half of the year, with many roads and grounds flooded and farm work interrupted. But now and then, wooden stilts are replaced with brick constructions, nice verandas or balconies hanging full of flower addes. A landrover parked under the house that is used as a storage space during the dry half of the year.
A 45 min boatride brings us to the actual floating villages, boathouses that are evenly spread out on the water. The water is an opaque muddy brown, and I am sad to see so much trash caught in fishtraps or take-away containers floating next to boats and nets. But for the people here, even this water is life. They wash their dishes, clothes and themselves in it, they fish to survive. Boats pass frequently laden with people, produce, daily life products. We pass the school – the biggest boat in the village – and are invited to have a drink at the village supermarket. The view is quite remarkable and thinking about it, it is hard to grasp how far this is from the life I am leading.
The supermarket’s owners are Vietnamese, relocated during the Vietnamese occupation. I also notice the signs in Vietnamese at the school building. I would love to know more, but they also speak Khmer and Vietnamese…
April 8th – 10th 2017