There are several floating villages in Tonle Sap lake/river (the distinction between them is a moot point). The most easily accessible from Siem Reap is Chong Khneas but I’ve heard it’s a bit of a Disney land with more tourists than locals and plenty of people trying to scam you, so I didn’t want to go there. Somewhat further away is Kampong Phluk which is an authentic village but apparently it’s quite small so a visit there will be very short. About 50 kilometers from the city is Kampong Khleang which is a much larger town than Kampong Phluk with more to see, but remote enough that not many tourists go there.
This last option sounded like just the thing for Yini and I but there is very limited information on how to get there. Nearly everything I could find was for tours but we wanted to go independently. Eventually I found out that there should be a road that goes to the permanent part of the village, from there it’s possible to get a boat out to the actual floating village that moves with the seasons. So, we rented a scooter and set off. In the town of Damdek we turned off the main road on to a dirt road heading towards the lake. After a few kilometers the road petered out into some rice fields and we had to turn back.
Thanks to some locals we eventually found the correct road which is a nice, straight asphalt road. On the way home we realized we turned off the main road just a little bit too early. For those interested in going, see the map below.
The village itself is a rather small place, just a single dirt road (that is bound to be flooded in the wet season), simple wooden houses on stilts lining both sides. There’s quite a lot of clutter everywhere, old boats, fishing gear out to dry, various machinery, piles of trash, chickens and stray dogs, and the entire place smells faintly of fish.
Near the village center (?) there is a temple which is actually built by concrete, and there we also found the tour boat dock. A tour to the floating village takes about 1.5 hours and costs 20 USD per person. The boat is a rather primitive affair with simple wooden seats and the driver doesn’t speak any English (a guide costs extra) but all that is part of the charm. The floating village kind of reminds me of the floating markets in Can Tho except there are actual houses rather than boats that people live in.
After the boat tour we searched around for a little while before finding an open restaurant. After lunch we went for a stroll in the village, looking at people going about their daily lives.
We stopped to try our hands at chopping fire wood (we failed)
Coming to Kampong Khleang you get to see a slice of the real rural life. In Europe everything is so organised, the rivers dammed up with stone lined banks and fishing is done using big boats on a commercial scale. Here things are much more simple, people live their lives closer to nature and to each other. I think this kind of thing is really fascinating to see, but at the same time it feels a bit weird to come here and gawk at people just trying to live their lives. I’m happy there aren’t that many tourists because not only does it make for a more authentic experience, but people can actually go about their daily lives without being disturbed by bus loads of foreigners.