Two People, One Village: The Floating Lives of Inner Cambodia

Two People, One Village: The Floating Lives of Inner Cambodia

I took a trip to a different side of #Cambodia, one that many tourists may not get to see. The floating #villages of Kambuja are very much at the mercy of Mother Nature. They are #active fishermen, combing the waters to food to feed their families. It's a shock to see what they endure just to get through their daily lives.


I’m just coming back from Cambodia, the country mainly known for its 3-year-8-month-20-day Khmer Rouge period, its always smiling population, and for its poverty.

Part of Kompong Khleang floating village near Siem Reap

In all honesty, when I booked my flight to ancient Kambuja I thought I knew what to expect, but as it turned out, my pre-trip research did little to prepare me for the sights of a life heavily dependent on weather conditions and Mother Nature’s moods.

The streets are lined with stilt houses

After the mandatory two day temple hopping at Angkor Archaeological Park around Siem Reap, one of Cambodia’s most popular tourist sites, I reached the village of Kompong Khleang. Floating on the calm and somehow muddy waters of Tonle Sap Lake, I had to arrive by a local driven boat after walking through a forest of stilt houses rising some 10 meters from the ground. All this to deal with the raining season that causes the river to flood inland. 

My research did little to prepare me for the sights of a life heavily dependent on weather.

Houses seemingly permanently open, with villagers of all ages appearing from the wooden terrace and smiling at the passers-by. They seemed to be getting along with their daily chores such as cleaning and selling goods in makeshift convenience stores set up day after day.

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Covering the mud hued waters framed by a bright green vegetation was a regular stream of tottering boats shipping rice, peas and all sorts of goods from one end to the other. Tonle Sap Lake gets 70% of its water from the Mekong River, while the other 30% comes from rain and other tributaries. The floating villages along the river that flows up to Vietnam apparently attract tourists drawn by this unusual way of life. Definitely unconventional, the nitty-gritty of this floating lifestyle is far less charming than it might sound.

Creative clotheslines
Creative clotheslines

Makeshift Clotheslines for the Laundry

Inhabited by Cambodians in the still part and Vietnamese immigrants in the floating department, life in both Kompong Khleang and Phsar Krom villages (the latter closer to Phnom Penh) is all but easy.

Life in both Kompong Khleang and Phsar Krom villages is all but easy.

The houses floating on the lake, basically wide boats where everything concerning their daily life and privacy happens, are safer when waters are not too deep, otherwise the waves make them unstable and insecure. Living literally on the water, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this is the first element they rely on, and two are their ways to filter it: either they directly pour it on the huge containers and wait for the mud to rest on the bottom before they can use it for cleaning, cooking and pretty likely also drinking, or they use a scarf as a makeshift strainer.

Stilted house in Kompong Khleang

Stilt House in Kompong Khleang

Here villagers make a living fishing and selling the fish to both Cambodia and Vietnam towns reached via the river, or with local “convenience stores” where they sell mineral water and first-necessity goods.

It goes without saying that this is not ideal hygienic conditions.

As these waters serve as resource for cooking, cleaning, transport trail, swimming and toilet dump, it goes without saying that this is not ideal hygienic conditions: it was a shock for me to learn that life expectancy is 54 years, and 12% of children don’t reach the age of 5.

Entrance to a stilted house

Entrance to a Stilt House

“Different people, different styles, same village," Borey, our Cambodian guide, told me. He might have been here many times, but he hardly looked as if he's used to these sights.

A local sailing
A local sailing
Local kitchen in a floating village
Local kitchen in a floating village
Local house
Plants cover the front of this floating house
Floating villages
Floating villages
Locals looking for fish
Locals looking for fish
Amazing lifestyle
It's definitely a unique lifestyle

Above are some more shots I took in both Kompong Khleang and Phsar Krom in the hope they’ll give a better idea of the hard conditions the residents live in.

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