In an annual phenomenon unique to the region, the natural flow of the Tonle Sap river is reversed back into the lake of the same name, by the influx of the monsoon swollen Mekong into the South China Sea!
This expands the area of the lake several fold, making it the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia….for a while! And sustains the livelihoods of thousands of people living off its bounty in ‘floating’ villages.
Chong Kneas is the most popular of the villages, owing to its proximity to Siem Reap. We chose to visit the farther and less touristy cluster of villages called Kompong Phluk – The Harbour of Tusks – to get a more authentic feel for the daily life of these denizens of the river. It involved an hours drive from Siem Reap, and a further half hour by boat to get there.
A floating village sounds romantic. But the reality is far from the truth. A world away from the riverine communities of the West. While the stilt houses are extremely picturesque, particularly bathed in the glow of evening light, life on the water seems hard, and the considerable revenue from the remnants of the glorious Khmer kingdom, does not appear to be percolating down to these poor descendants.
It is hard not to feel like an intruder, when you are unsure your dollars are helping in any way. Hard as well to comprehend the presence of champagne sunset cruises combined with a tour of these villages!
We transferred to a small canoe for a short ride through the pristine mangrove forests – they called them floating forests – before continuing on to witness the most spectacular sunset ever, on the magnificent lake further down!
A note of warning for those trying to do this on their own at sunset. There is little or no transport back into town at that hour. So make sure you have a vehicle waiting. A return trip by car should cost in the region of US$70 – 80. I suggest making payment once you are safely back ‘home’, or you might have to contend with a loooong walk back.