The Floating Village – Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia


If you take a trip to Siem Reap Cambodia, or in fact just about anywhere in SE Asia, you will quickly suffer from an overdose of temples. While they are stunning works of art, and feats of engineering, after a couple days of visiting them they start to look very similar!

To take a break from temples, I asked my guide to take me to Tonle Sap lake. It interested me because of its significance to Cambodia:

  1. It is the largest freshwater lake in SE Asia.
  2. It changes in size from 2700 sq. km to 16,000 sq. km depending on the seasion and goes from 1 to 9 meters deep
  3. The Mekong river actually changes direction from outflow to inflow into the lake depending on the level
  4. 60% of Cambodia’s dietary protein comes from this lake

$25 got me my very own boat for the day, not a boat for a single person, rather it could have easily handled 20! Based on the age of the engine, I think we spent that much on gas! Perhaps this is why the captain took advantage of the trip to run some errands at the floating hardware store.

The first event worth note was the sudden appearance of an extra person on the boat, a very small person carrying drinks. Perhaps due to some instinct triggered by travel in a foreign land, I had taken count of the passengers on the boat, and hackles were raised when the math no longer worked! I think I was at the lake on a slow day, because we could have been boarded 4-5 times to be sold drinks, and my skipper actually had to wave some off.

After some travel through the murky water of Tonle Sap, we arrived at the floating village.

Since the people that live on the lake are subsistence fishermen, I think living in floating houses solved the problem of needing to be near the water, and dealing with the massive change in both the depth of the lake, and the location of the shore. Everything was floating, even the Christian church!

I was informed that the majority of the inhabitants were actually not Cambodian, but Vietnamese. You can see from the picture here that for children, independence comes in the form of a cooking pot! Rather than asking for the keys to the family car, they raid the kitchen!

Obviously the child in the picture is missing something. While I did not get his particular story, it is a very common site in Cambodia to see people missing limbs. This is due to the scourge of land mines that still plagues the country. Apparently there are still more land mines than people… not a good ratio!

The poverty was hard to believe… poverty that can only exist in countries where the weather allows survival when you truly have nothing!

But at least they get to enjoy awesome sunsets!

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One Response

  1. Interesting! I saw this same boy floating in the cooking pot when I sailed through the village in August 2006. He’s younger in my photo and I didn’t notice the stub where his arm should have been until much later.

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