In Kompong Khleang, we visited a stilted village and a floating village on the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia. It was one of the most fascinating experiences of our lives.
With all the traveling we have done, we have experienced many cultures and have seen so many different ways people live - from the very wealthy to the very poor. But this community struck us as the most unique and different way of living we have ever seen. It was as if we dropped into the middle of a National Geographic Magazine.
We hired a driver as this village was a two-hour drive from Siem Reap. Because it was the dry season, we were able to drive thorough the local village before getting to where the boats dock. The village was an amazing sight in itself, with the stilted houses sitting so high up in the air - up to 15 feet!
During the rainy season (November - May) the road will be completely flooded and the water level will go up the bottom of the houses.
Like Sojourn village, the people were exceptionally friendly and were NOT begging for money....the children were just busy waving and and calling out "goodbye, goodbye". Sweet.
Fishing is the main income for the entire community. As we drove through the village, we saw trays of fish lying out in the hot sun to dry.
The people of Kampong Khleang, make Cambodia's famous fermented fish paste, Prahoc. This paste is unique to Cambodian cuisine and is made by fermenting whole fish, or shrimp, with ground rice and salt.
The smell was extremely pungent. This is where we wish we had scratch and sniff capabilities on our blog : ). After the fish are dried, they are seasoned and packaged for sale. Thinking you would never eat this? Chances are…..if you have eaten Cambodia food you probably have, as it is used in almost every savory dish.
We rented a private boat and our driver came with us - he had also been our driver the day before and we really liked him. He was able to give us information about the people and their life on the water. Our "captains" were two fairly young boys where the younger of the two had the job of emptying the water that was seeping into our boat. No safety requirements here! But if you look at the top left of the photo - there were safety vests.
There were so many great photographic opportunities along the river, but keep in mind we were in a boat…..moving most of the time, so the photos are not as sharp as I would have liked.
We were awe-struck as we started our journey down the river. The height of the houses teetering up on the stilts (look at the brown house in the backgound below) were a sight to be seen. By the end of June, the lake will be come within a foot of the house below.
We also found it amazing to see that the men spend most of their life IN the water. Not "near" the water or "on" the water, but in the water... usually up their necks all day long.
Tonle Sap is one of South East Asia’s largest fresh water lakes. It is connected to the Mekong River. There are over 200 species of fish on the lake. The fishing industry in Cambodia is so important that even the currency, the riel, is named after a small fish used in the fish paste.
Kompong Khleang is the largest permanent settlement on the lake. with over 20,000 people living there.
Some houses were built right on the water's edge. They are temporary thatched huts which are dismantled during the rainy season and moved along the causeways on trucks.
The community undergoes dramatic and continual changes due to the seasonal flood levels caused by the reverse flow of the Tonle Sap river. On the water's edge or on the lake, they are all used to moving their entire houses around. Below, a house is being pulled by a boat to a new location.
Every moment of this journey was a surprise. We saw children playing in the water -
women washing their clothes -
Women cleaning fish to be dried-
A family doing daily chores - maybe getting ready for a meal? Grandma must be in good shape having to go over the side of the boat all day long.
Lots of men fishing with nets -
And families traveling across the river. Looks like they are as curious about us as we were about them. This was definately NOT a tourist site. In fact, we only saw one other group of tourists, a couple, the entire time we were there.
How sweet - she is blowing us a kiss!
The houses along the riverbank became sparse as we traveled about 20 minutes into the heart of the river where we began to see the floating village in the horizon.
The floating village has about 100 families and is completely separate from the stilted village; both in location and ethnicity. The floating village sits in the middle of the lake and is populated by Vietnamese. The stilted village is Cambodian and is connected to the shoreline.
How about this little guy hanging on the end of the boat with no supervision….and we sometimes worry if the kids are in the next room by themselves!
I imagine him to be thinking - gee - can't a guy get any privacy around here?
This really took my breath away - to see this small child hanging off the side of the boat like this. I have to share just one more photo.....humm guess no diapers are needed for him!
Here is another one, a little girl not much older. Looks like she is washing dishes. And again, no adults in sight.
How about these four little boys? Think of how much mischief four boys would get in to on dry land...can't even image in a boat on the water!
What an incredible way to live – to do everything by boat…..pull up to the local restaurant:
Shop for clothes:
Seventy percent of the villagers make their living as fishermen and the remaining 30 percent have mainly fishing-related occupations, such as boat building, making nets and processing the catch. The houses looked nicer than I had expected. Some were by themselves
Others were in clusters -
There were big ones painted bright colors.
They even had two schools. This one is called the "Love Your Neighbor School".
We were guessing this to be the school for the older children as it has a playgound off the back. As you can see, the schools are beautiful new boats.
There is a concern as to how much longer the villagers will be able to live this way. The fish are decreasing each year and illegal fishing for commercial use are huge problems. When they come in and farm for profit, it does not leave enough fish for the villagers to live.
As we were sitting out there on this boat – surrounded by a floating village…..it was one of those moments were I thought - WOW – not in a million years would I ever have imagined I would have such an opportunity to see such a fascinating, remarkable, wondrous sight.