Floating Village of Chong Kneas
Imagine living your life almost entirely on water. Waking up in a home surrounded on all sides by an ever-rising and falling tide. Fishing for your food in the same spot that you wash your body and all of your belongings. Boating to a local shop or restaurant that only stays in place by the drop of an anchor. Being forced to move your home with continuously changing water levels.
On and around Cambodia's Tonlé Sap Lake - the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia - this is the reality for more than 1.2 million people. They sustain their lives by providing more than half of Cambodia's fish supply ~ working and living as one with the water.
During our stay in Northern Cambodia, we went to see one of the many water towns on the Tonlé Sap on a suggestion from our tuk tuk driver Mao. Located just 11 miles outside of Siem Reap, we took a quick ride through the rice paddy-filled countryside, whizzing past stilted shanties in varying degrees of decrepitude on our way to the floating village of Chong Kneas.
When we reached the waterfront, we boarded a private electric-blue boat complete with a captain and guide to make our way through the muddy channel towards the lake. We experienced a bit of culture shock trying to grasp what life in the area is really like, particularly after seeing the 40 foot poles indicating how high the water levels rise in the monsoon season.
It wasn't until the channel opened up to the actual lake that the real shock set in. Floating there in the middle of the water ~ not unlike the 10,000 lakes scattered throughout our home state of Minnesota ~ was an entire slum made up of homes, shops, places of worship and schools. So wild!
Near the end of the hour and a half long trip, we were told we were going to stop by the market to pick up a bag of rice for the local children before visiting them at the floating school. They pressured us to buy a $40 bag, which we quickly realized was a scam that wouldn't benefit the children in any sort of way. We politely declined and offered to buy some inexpensive vegetables, but were told to not even bother. Fortunately, most of the children we saw seemed to be happy and well-fed when we went on to visit them.
A lot of people have complained about scams associated with Chong Kneas, but we really enjoyed the experience. It was a bit expensive at $25USD per person, but we thought it was worth it to see a way of life we had never encountered before.