Tonlé Sap: The Floating Village

I remember learning a case study on this when I was at school, and I would love to know if it’s the same place or not. One of the tourist “must do’s” when in Siem Reap, is to visit the floating village at lake Tonlé Sap. Tonlé Sap refers to a seasonally inundated freshwater lake, the Tonlé Sap Lake and an attached river, the 120 km long Tonlé Sap River, that connects the lake to the Mekong River.

Many tourists flock to Tonlé Sap to visit one of the floating villages and we went to, Kampong Phluk, a community that builds their homes on stilts to coincide with the monsoon season and the result of flooding. The village includes and explores the different Khmer, Muslim and Vietnamese floating households and the floating markets, fisheries, clinics, schools, basketball course, and a pigsty.

We booked a company tour through Viator which cost $25 per person, and we opted for the afternoon trip, not wanting another early start. We were picked up around 2pm and drove for around 40 minutes to reach the boat dock at Tonlé Sap. As we were stood waiting to get on the boat, there was a woman barbecuing by the waters, I asked her what it was she was making and amongst the different meats there was snake on a skewer… interesting choice of cuisine huh?

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We then got on the small boats that would take us through the centre of the village, it was around 20 minutes before we saw any sign of a community.

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Kampong Phluk, which literally means ‘harbour of the tusks‘, is actually three villages, with mainly stilted houses, that line the main entrance to the Tonle Sap Lake from this area. It’s just over 30km from Siem Reap and can be easily managed in a half day trip. The community sustain themselves mainly on catching fish and shrimp, but also harvest some land crops during the dry season.

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The road trip and also the river trip are relatively short compared to some of the other villages. There aren’t any activities that tourists normally can do in Kampong Phluk as this is a working village and most of the people are focused on their own industry, quite separate to the tourism industry buzzing past their doors.

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Literally going right past the houses of the locals can be interesting to view another way of life, but it can feel quite invasive as well, especially knowing these residents aren’t either involved in or receiving any benefit from the industry. However, nearby there are small boats that can take you around the mangroves, or flooded forest, which is a more authentic experience. There are also a few floating restaurants and stopping here also supports some of the local tourism industry.

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We were given the opportunity to step onto dry land where the main temple is. Here you can buy souvenirs and snacks, and donate to the school children who are in desperate need of school supplies. From here, you’re then given the opportunity to take a boat through the flooded mangrove forest.

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It’s around a thirty minute ride through the back of the village and into the flooded forest, you can even see monkeys scurrying around the tree tops whilst you hear branches snap and drop down into the water. One of the women who was paddling the boat had some small bananas which the monkeys came down to reach for.

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A flooded forest is a collection of dense mangroves that grow on the banks of the Tonlé Sap. They are referred to as flooded or floating forests because during part of the year they fill with water. This makes them navigable only by boat. The Siem Reap flooded forests are very important to fisherman as they are rich in shrimp and other fish. They are also a source of wood for cooking.

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The floating forests don’t flood all year around. They are only navigated by boat when the Tonlé Sap is filled with water. This usually starts around July and will end the following February. Side note, this depends on the floating village and the amount of rain and water the Tonlé Sap receives. This will change every year.

After an enjoyable boat ride through the village and the forest, we stopped at a floating restaurant for lunch where they had a caged enclosure to feed the crocodiles in the lake. A woman sat on top of this cage and dropped pieces of meat to which numerous crocodiles threw themselves out the water to grab the meat. It’s crazy to think we’d just done a boat ride, not knowing we were in crocodile infested waters…

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Time to head back and catch the sunset, before making our way back to the hotel. The sunset wasn’t so good on the boat, but this picture I managed to take from the car, which confirms to me that Cambodia, hands down, has the best sunsets.

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The driver asked if anyone wanted to get dropped off at Pub Street rather than their hotel which we agreed to as we wanted some dinner and drinks for our last night in Siem Reap. We shared some fresh spring rolls after we loved them so much at our cooking class a few days back and I opted for the amok green curry. Food wasn’t that great to be fair, so we stopped for a massage and a cocktail before we went back to the hotel for our flight the next morning.

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We had an absolute blast in Siem Reap, and I got to do so many things I’d been wanting to do for a while in country number 65! Stay posted for how we spent our last three days in Cambodia…

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