Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and one of the richest inland fishing grounds in the world. There are different species of wildlife in and around the lake, which helped to sustain and grow the ancient Khmer civilization. In 1997, Tonle Sap was nominated as a UNESCO biosphere reserve. Tonle Sap is unusual for two reasons: its flow changes direction twice a year, and the portion that forms the lake expands and shrinks dramatically with the seasons. From November to May, Cambodia’s dry season, the Tonle Sap drains into the Mekong River and during rainy season, Mekong River flows into Tonle Sap which forms an enormous lake, flooding nearby fields and forests. As a precautionary measure, people living on the shores of Tonle Sap built their houses on tall wooden structures.
There are several floating villages around Siem Reap. We decided to skip the touristy places and head to an authentic floating village even if it was farther from Siem Reap (around 50km). I wanted to witness an undisturbed community with a lifestyle preserved for generations, so we went to Kampong Khleang. We were greeted and followed by many children. They were playing outside and laughing at us. I was shocked by the conditions they were living in, but their happiness made me realize that they don’t know anything else besides that. They were happy with the little they had.
The Cambodian floating village Kampong Khleang offers a completely different sight during dry and wet seasons. During rainy season, the water in the lake can reach as high as 14 meters, whereas during dry season, it drops to only 2 meters. Since the houses in Kampong Khleang are built on stilts, the low level of water revealed the impressive wooden structures below them. We were the only tourists in the village and rented a boat for ourselves. The captain was a 10-year old boy who didn’t speak English. Nevertheless, we managed to get an authentic insight into Cambodian rural living and understand how the village works.
The main activity in the village is fishing. We saw several men fishing from the boat or jumping out in the water with huge fishing nets. Tonle Sap supports huge collections of unique flora and fauna including Siamese crocodiles. Around 1000 crocodile farms operate in Cambodia and one of them can be visited near Siem Reap, 50 km away from Kampong Khleang.
It’s almost impossible for me to imagine living on the water, every second of the day! What I also found shocking about this life on water is the fact that the water is used for everything: drinking, cooking, washing. Tonle Sap is a very beautiful lake that deserves to be explored and admired while Kampong Khleang is a fantastic place to experience rural Cambodian life! It was wonderful to take a boat ride and see all the houses on stilts, the locals fishing and doing their daily activities.
On our way to the floating village
Getting close to it
And here we are!