Tonle Sap Lake is the biggest in Cambodia, and the biggest freshwater lake in all of Southeast Asia.
Seeing the floating villages seems to be the other thing to do in Siem Reap. I met a few girls who were interested, but like me they weren’t interested in overpriced tours that didn’t show you the reality of a place. After a little research we found out the name of a village that sounded like it was not inundated with tour buses. Step 2 to find a tuk tuk and negotiate a price. Most prices here are negotiable (not just in Cambodia, but all over southeast Asia). Initial prices are set higher in the hope that tourists won’t notice.
I was expecting warmer weather in Siem Reap than in Chiang Mai. It’s definitely more humid. Also, rainy season supposedly ended in October, but there’s been more rain than I was expecting. It’s cold riding through the countryside in an open-air tuk tuk.
(The sun has come out in the few days since my trip to the lake. Now it’s really hot.)
We ended up in a village called Kompong Khleang. It wasn’t floating, but it was perched precariously close to the ed of the lake. According to what I read, the current changes direction halfway through the year based on the flow of water into the lake. I think I need to do more research. The lake also supplies Cambodia with about half its protein. The lake is home to hundreds of thousands of people who live on or near it and generate an income from it.
For $20 per person you can take a boat tour to the actual floating village. The floating village is exactly what it sounds like. Think Waterworld, the movie. $20 is a little pricey so we wandered through the village on shore. Still really interesting. All of the houses are on stilts, at least 10 feet off the ground. I think that when the lake floods the village turns into a floating village of sorts.
We were the only foreigners wandering around the village in the rain that day. We were also semi-celebrities. Every single child, and some adults, waved at us and either said hello or bye bye. So so so many smiles.
While warming up with a sickeningly sweet coffee, we struck up a conversation of sorts with 2 women and a bunch of kids. Next to no English was spoken. A lit if smiles, hand gestures, and guesses were exchanged. We showed them where we are from on a map on our phone. For people who probably rarely leave village and the surrounding area, let alone Cambodia, I wonder what they know of the rest of the world. How much news reaches their little village and what kind? What do they think when they see foreigners wandering around. Everyone was nice, but what did they see when they looked at us?
The kids go to school by boat and everyone wears uniforms. The main source of income is the lake.
The old lady we met at the shop invited us to sit with her at her home. The home is on stilts and we had to climb 2 levels of ladders. The house is one big room with a big porch outside. There is no privacy in most of these simple homes. Everyone truly lives together. We sat outside on the porch on a big mat and continued our attempts at conversation. She made no attempts at English and we knew 3 words of Khmer between us. That didn’t stop the laughter and constant smiling.
Smiling and laughter are universal.
So I didn’t actually visit a famed floating village. I did, however, get to see another way of life. I got a sense of how people live outside the big, touristy city of Siem Reap. While I didn’t get the whole picture, I got an insight. And I was greeted with some of the biggest smiles.