The Khmer On The Water

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.Kompong Phluk, Cambodia

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.Kompong Phluk , Cambodia

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.

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on

81 thoughts on “The Khmer On The Water

  1. I agree… I normally think about their daily lives as you do and often forget about taking pictures of them or the place. The sunset is a breathtaking shot.

  2. Fascinating to see and learn about these villages.
    The sunset photo is absolutely breathtaking! Thank you for this thoughtful post, Madhu.

  3. Beautiful shots, Madhu. Thoughtful post, too. I wonder how some (of those in picturesque places like this) would feel about being like fish in an aquarium.

  4. What a gorgeous sunset, Madhu. The homes on stilts do look romantic. We often don’t realize what lies beneath the surface of communities we visit. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Brilliant Madhu the pictures and the exciting write-up. The sunset especially is magical.
    Thanks aplenty 🙂

  6. Beautiful post, Madhu. Still a big regret on my part to not have seen these places in Southeast Asia. I’ll do virtual traveling through your posts for now. 😉

  7. In a way, I felt like I’d seen these places in my country of birth. Despite of poverty, people smile like their millionaires, something I don’t see in a country supposedly rich. People there don’t talk about stress, they simply try to live life in whatever way they can.

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