CHONG KNEAS : THE FAMOUS FLOATING VILLAGE OF CAMBODIA
The Tonlé Sap is the largest lake in South East Asia. Located in Cambodia it is unique because the direction of the water flow changes twice a year. During the dry season, it flows into the Mekong, but during the Monsoon season it flows inland, expanding from 2700 sq. km to 16000 sq. km during this time. Water played a very important part in the ancient Khmer people lives and is remains important in the lives of modern day Cambodian people as well.
The water levels rise and fall so dramatically each year that it is not a wonder that they built a floating village to follow the water. There is a tributary about two Kilometres long that leads in the Tonle Sap Lake that is home to theFloating Village. You will find it about 15 kilometres from Siem Reap, which is famous for its ancient ruins and temples left over from the Khmer civilisation.
The start of my journey along the river
Tour operators are prevalent in Siem Reap, and you will have no troubles organising a day trip to the floating village. Tour operators here are not travel agents or stalls with various brochures, but rather just a guy with a motorised tricycle that has a keen local knowledge and will be your own personal tour guide for as many days as requested. Depending on your bargaining skills, the prices may vary from US$30-$50 a day. As he will just be transportation to the village, he agrees to take me there and back for US$10.
After a ride out to the beginning of the small river, there are various tours that you can take, depending on the size of your party which will determine the size of your boat. Here the tour guide will left me as I enter a small boat to float up river looking at the village on water.
The land is quite baren and lifeless on either side of the water
Expect to see houses, schools and even churches all built on barge like bases anchored at various points along your tour. The place is frenetic. These floating barges are not stagnant, but many are moving at any one time, vying for a better position along the banks, I assume. The houses do not move under their own power, but towed along by boats and the boat I am in needs to navigate carefully to ensure a safe passage down the river. The passageway is roughly thirty metres wide and since the shores all have house boats attached, the actual navigable waterways is somewhat reduced.
My two teen tours guides/boat drivers and I float downstream past a fish markets as another small boat pulls up alongside to sell me a can of coke. Cambodia is a very poor country, still getting over the oppressive Khmer Rougeregime and the genocide that occurred, and tourism plays a major part in this part of the country for income, so I buy a can even though I am not thirsty. Soon after, the driver pulls up alongside a floating school, complete with basketball court and I am encouraged to go inside and donate some money to the school, but I decline this time.
Even the school was floating
The lake starts off as a blur on horizon, but as you get closer and closer it quickly gets bigger and bigger until it is the only think you can see for 180 degrees. You can’t see any land and would be forgiven for thinking you were on the coast of an ocean. Here you disembark the boat onto a large two story barge which is a cross between a gift shop, convenience store, tourist centre and zoo. I am left on my own to wander around and have a look for myself. There are underwater cages that house fish farms and one filled with Crocodiles. There are various fish takes on view housing all sorts of aquatic life. I see many different species and sizes of fish, turtles and sharks. After 15 minutes or so, I buy another drink and look at the displays in the shop.
They have a type of wine drink in a jar, complete with dead baby Cobra for US$5. The locals believe that the energy of the Cobra will be relayed to those that drink it. I buy it for the wow factor rather than the mythical powers it possesses. Civilisation seems so far away at the time, I do not even think about customs and getting it home. Apparently some of the snakes are endangered, but I live and learn and I now think twice before I purchase animal products overseas.
It was a great view from the second floor of the deck
On the way home from school
The view from the second deck upstairs is great and after soaking it in for a while, I decide it is time to leave. I climb downstairs and my ride pulls up against the floating treasure of a building and we are off, making our way back downstream to where we started. On the way back there is much of the same. The water is murky and brown, more from silt than from pollution I would imagine. We pass more house boats moving and smaller boats full of school children either going to or from school. There are kids swimming, laughing and having fun in the water and jumping off the shore, all trying to out do each other and show off no doubt, not a stitch of clothing between them.
Kids playing in the water
After about thirty minutes we arrive back at the jetty where it all began. The two boys ask for a tip by holding out their hands before I leave and after a few dollars are received they float off with smiles on their faces. The motorcycle rider is there to greet me and we take off back into town after a thoroughly enjoyable few hours experiencing the unique and wondrous floating village of Chong Kneas.
Have a look at the short videos I took whilst visiting to get an insight into what the place was like