Floating village houses in Kampong Phluk, Tonle Sap, Cambodia
Some of the best moments on my Indochine trip last December was spent on a boat. Apart from the slow cruise down the Mekong River, a river that spans 5 countries, the one truly memorable day was the morning at a floating village called Kampong Phluk on Tonle Sap.
Tonle Sap is such a big lake, you will think you are looking at an ocean when you are floating in it on an aimless boat whiling the afternoon away.This lake is unusual in that it flows in opposite directions during the different seasons. As a result, the lake expands and shrinks dramatically depending on the time of the year.
In the dry season, the tide on its tributary is so low that no boat can pass. Once the wet season arrives however, the stilts disappear and the houses look like they float on water; the lake swells so much that it floods the surrounding forests and fields, providing a great breeding ground for fishes.
Fishing traps underneath a floating house
In 1997, Tonle Sap, the largest fresh water lake in South East Asia and an ecological hotspot was designated as a UNESCO biosphere.
Lady harvesting shrimps from nets on boat
As one might expect, Kumpung Phluk's economy is based primary on fishing, in particular shrimp harvesting.
Vertical Hydroponics Garden
A floating store or boat selling household goods
Accessible only by boats, villagers try to be as self sustaining as possible, growing their own vegetables in hydroponic gardens, making pig pens out of old boats and of course, farming fishes and other available sea lives. For all other goods, they rely on floating stores of wares and fruits, meats and rice.
A cluster of three villages of houses on stilt, Kumpung Phluk is built on a floodplain about 16km off Siem Reap. The villagers are mainly Khmers and there are about 3000 of them.
A child, barely 6 years old, rowing a boat
Returning from School
On a House Boat
That morning though, I think I barely saw 300 of them, mostly women and children. I still see them, barely out of baby-hood, precariously but deftly moving from boats to boats; the women performing back breaking chores, their children at their shoulders as they rowed and carried, cooked and gathered.
The lady rowing my boat
Kumpung Phluk's growing popularity for tourists nonetheless meant new job opportunities. We lunched at a nice restaurant waited by locals who could speak English, walked through the flooded forest on sturdy board walk built by carpenters and rode on small sampans through the mangrove paddled by the young mothers.
Mangrove forest as we drift in and out the trees on our small boats
And even though I do not envy them their lives, my half hour on that slow boat, weaving through the trees and watching the dancing lights, did make me wonder if I would like a life like this.
Perhaps only as a passing ship....
What about you, my friends, will you like it?