Floating village of Kompong Phluk

We landed in Siem Reap, Cambodia at around 7 o’clock in the morning after an hour flight from Singapore…and after just one-hour sleep during the whole night. We took a tuk-tuk and only the fresh cool morning breeze didn’t let us fall asleep on our way to the city. The first guesthouse we stopped by seemed to be pretty good let alone the price – 5 us dollars per night for 2 persons. So we left our bags, took a shower, that was definitely not enough to get some burst of energy and so we were both longing for a good cup of strong coffee. That’s why this time we were not up to a traditional Khmer ‘noudle soup’ breakfast, but rather were so happy to have a common continental one for the first time in our trip. It consisted of a European-style vegetable omelette and good coffee that we were sipping with so much pleasure…

…while looking out of the window and watching a busy street life in full swing…

Siem Reap itself is a small city with nothing really special about it but definitely with a certain charming atmosphere in and around it that makes the town a perfect base to explore the temples of Angkor. Actually it’s a life-support system for the temples of Angkor with a growing number of accommodation and dining options for an increasing flow of travellers coming to Cambodia. The tourism industry here has truly taken off over the past few years with old huts and shacks giving place to new guesthouses and even luxurious hotels as well as a long avenue called “Bar Street” full of nice cosy restaurants serving both Khmer and international cuisine, which is great news for many locals struggling to survive.

By the way it’s a funny thing that the name of the city – Siem Reap – literally means «Siamese defeated» (and Siamese is the same as Thai for those who don’t know). This is obviously not the most appropriate name for the city located so close to the Thai border. Imagine Minsk or Moscow with the name «Nazi/Germans defeated»! The point is that long time ago the Khmer empire actually included some part of modern Thailand, but ultimately it was defeated by its major rival and controlled by Siamese for centuries, what makes such name of the city even more inappropriate.

Right after breakfast we rushed back to the guesthouse as the tuk-tuk driver introduced as the guesthouse owner’s brother had already been waiting for us. Our destination was the floating village of Kompong Phluk that eventually turned out to be one of the highlights of our whole trip and probably the most memorable (if not to say, other-worldly experience) of all the journeys that we have ever made!

Around 30 km of Cambodian countryside separated us from Kompong Phluk. We couldn’t help making photos non-stop as everything around us was so different, we really felt like we were exploring the countryside of some other planet!

The homes of the poor…

as well as the ones of better-off…

Kids were playing in every yard alongside the red dusty road…

…and everybody were riding bicycles

some were smarter…

… everybody seemed to be so friendly, smiled everytime we looked at them and not a single child was begging upon their parents’ request despite all the poverty and hard times they were going through.

Finally we found ourselves in this remote wondrous place on the bank of the Tonle Sap River, surrounded by enormous paddy field, ready to explore the landscape so unfamiliar to Western civilization.

We took one of such wooden longtail boats…

…and started our unearthly adventure while our guide was trying to explain how Kompong Phluk came to be.

It turned out that the existence of the floating village on the bank of the Tonle Sap Lake (the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia) is the result of the inland tide circle: during the wet season the Mekong river overflows into the Tonle Sap river that, in its turn, makes the Tonle Sap lake water level rise about 10 meters and its surface expand from around 3000 sq km 4 times bigger this area. Thanks to this unique nature’s water cycle the lake is always rich in freshwater fish and shrimp (coming from the mighty Mekong river), the only source of income for the scarce population of such fishing village.

It looked like everybody was catching fish and harvesting shrimp…

We were staring in awe at what surrounded us: these fragile wooden houses on soaring stilts looking pretty much like bamboo skyscrapers (during the wet season the water level rises and it looks like the houses are floating freely on the water – spectacular sight we bet!)

↑ the local temple ↑

Longtail boats navigating canal streets – almost like gondolas in Venice)),

kids driving boats, coming back home from school by boat, even playing and having fun inside the boats!

                    

↑Looks a little grotesque?↑

…Or may be, on the contrary, could pass for ‘haute-couture’ if in a different setting?… People living in the village don’t really have clothes – you must have noticed lots of naked kids in our pictures… the luckier ones are half-naked, as almost everybody have to share either a top or a bottom with their little brothers or sisters. What this woman is wearing is most likely to be coming from America or Europe as part of humanitarian help.

Then our boat pulled up by a high ladder leading up to the ground level of Kompong Phluk, a narrow strip of land running through the middle of the village. During the wet season we would have been treading water but at this time of the year we were lucky to explore on foot.

Here we found a local school and were even able to attend a class after we bought some pens and notebooks and decided to hand them out to kids. These school children all stood up greeting us when we entered the classroom and we felt like bursting into tears when we saw the sparks in their eyes, their genuine happiness and sincere gratitude for these small gifts. That was a heart-wrenching experience. Our own days at school, responsibility-and-carefree, full of joy and memorable moments just passed before our eyes and we felt kind of guilty and deeply sorry for these poor little kids with uncertain future. We had everything necessary and even more than necessary back in those days and we doubt anybody said thank you to their parents for such things as pens and notebooks – we simply took them for granted! As they say you only start appreciating something when you miss it…

As we were coming back to our boat we could see local chicken, who can’t escape the hard times either…

…so we guess the lunch made from it shouldn’t be as good as this grilled fish, which is a typical local meal.

We were on a boat again and before heading back to where our tuk-tuk was waiting for us, we decided to go out onto the – I was about to say ‘open sea’ – but it’s actually not, so I should say ‘open lake’ instead, ’cause it’s really huge, you can’t see the opposite bank and during the rainy season it grows way bigger and they say if you look down on Cambodia from the plane it looks like one giant puddle as the Tonle Sap ‘gets out of control’.

↑the mangrove forest↑

↑ the highest bamboo scyscraper we saw right in the middle of it ↑

We don’t know whether our pictures gave you the taste of Kompong Phluk’s leisurely pace of life, its relaxed and peaceful atmosphere, but we should say we really enjoyed it and even considered staying overnight with one of local families, but then we realised we only had one more full day left in Cambodia, so we went back to Siem Reap to watch the sunset from one of Angkor’s highest temples…

Read more and see photos of Angkor Wat…

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5 Responses to Floating village of Kompong Phluk

  1. Hello both!!
    Very nice post and very nice pictures!!!!!!!!!!
    Now, we are in Holland and we’ll go to Caracas (Venezuela) in a week. We have a new proyect in Southamerica!! If you want, you can read it in (in spanish) http://magiaenelcamino.com.ar/?p=3395
    We hope that you are ok!!!
    See you!!
    Greetings!!!
    Aldana and Dino

    • Hey guys! We are really glad you both are fine and are still up to new adventures, new ideas and projects!
      You are amazing travelers and one day we will go for something similar, or at least a one year tour around the world for the start! 🙂

  2. bemylight says:

    I feel so blessed now to have all that I have. Thank you guys for reminding me.

  3. Cyndi says:

    Fabulous! You have just made up my mind. If I went to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat etc, I wouldn’t have been satisfied to leave without seeing village life. I’m now convinced that this will be the place to go. Loved your story and pictures, thank you!
    Cyndi 🙂

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