I definitely needed a break from the temples today and decided to take an excursion to one of the floating villages. A few couchsurfers and I got the tip from a local couchsurfer telling us not to go to the nearby village of Chong Khneas, telling us that it was solely developed for tourists and a complete trap. Thus, we headed out to the distant Kompong Khleang 35 km away from Siem Reap.
The tuk tuk drive out to the village was peaceful and we saw a lot of the countryside. The road into the town was a tough dirt road, which ended up being our downfall later that evening. The houses that lined the path were all on stilts to protect themselves during the wet season. I was impressed by the height, probably 5-6 meters tall, but nothing compared to those along the river bank, which towered almost 10 meters.
We were told that a boat should be $15 and when we were quoted the price of $20 each (utterly ridiculous!) we decided to take a walk through the village to get them to reconsider their offer. I was hounded by the adorable children asking me for 1000 riel, 1000 riel, 1000 riel. I fell in love with them right away and I was actually disappointed I didn’t have any riel with me, although that probably wouldn’t have been the best idea to cultivate their ideas that tourists should give them money. I loved the feel of the little town, there was even a little ice cream cart going around. All the houses were hoisted up on huge stilts, townies were lazing around, and life in the village seemed to be pretty good.
After much negotiation, we lowered the price to $35 for the entire boat and were soon puttering down the river towards the Tonlé Sap lake. There were so many great photographic opportunities along the river, many boats passing, pigs playing around in the mud, children splashing in the water, and field workers coming home from a hard days work.
About 20 minutes later, we were faced with the opening to the huge lake and soon enough encountered the floating village for the first time.
What an incredible way to live! Taking a boat to the market. To see your friends. To have dinner. Pretty much, taking a boat to do anything. We spotted pigs, dogs, and chickens hanging on these large house boats. Some houses were bigger than others. Some were by themselves while others were located in clusters. Live moved around just like it would on land.
We passed through the village and decided to take a break to watch the sunset. It was crazy. The ocean and the sky melded into one and it literally looked like we were at the edge of the earth. It was a really eerie feeling. Not know what was out there and the toxic green water of the lake made us wonder what was beneath us as well. It was pretty cloudy so the sunset wasn’t too dramatic, but it was still an incredibly peaceful setting to be in. Chilling in a lake, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, in a floating village, in Cambodia somewhere. Who would have thought I would be here??
We got a little more up close and personal view of the village on the way back and actually stopped a store to get some fuel. Unfortunately, it was getting dark and I was unable to use a shutterspeed fast enough to counteract the movement of the boat (I don’t like using flash in these situations because I believe that it is intrusive) so I didn’t get as many up close shots as I would have liked.
We made it back to the village and were soon on our way back to Siem Reap. Or so we thought. A few minutes down the road our driver pulled over and told us to get out. Panic rushed through my body as I thought he was going to leave us in the pitch darkness, in the middle of nowhere, and no way to get back, but then I remembered, we hadn’t paid him yet, so there was no way he would leave. He pointed to his tire and we noticed it was completely flat. Great.
About an hour and a half later, and after I intently watched the way they attempted to fix this tire, first by sewing, then some weird goop like substance, then a patch, and ultimately just changing out the tire completely, we were on our way back to Siem Reap again. While we were waiting, we had stopped in a small area of town where the boys were viciously playing around whipping a wet towel at each other. Boys will be boys anywhere in the world. I stayed far away for I wanted no part in that and wished I could have meandered around a bit more, but alas the town had barely any electricity, and wandering around would surely get me lost.
It was an absolutely amazing experience, although I would have loved to spend more time on the lake weaving through the houses and checking out everything they had there, but then again, I wouldn’t want someone sneaking through my backyard.