Living on a boat without tap water, natural gas connection, internet or anything you expect in a place called home: That's what floating villages in Cambodia are like. They might not be delightful attractions in the conventional sense but definitely a must-see if you want to understand the country and its people.
If you have more than 3 days in Siem Reap, make a half-day trip to one of these floating villages.
- Off the beaten track from the usual temple visits
- Get to know the life style of villagers on floating homes
- Learn to appreciate your current life
- Support local community by buying things from the village population
- Be shocked by the poverty in Cambodia
- See houses, schools and restaurants on stilts
- View Tonle Sap Lake from the boat, perhaps catch a sunset
Why visit floating villages
It is an atmospheric journey through the wetlands of Tonle Sap Lake, which is the largest lake in Southeast Asia. You can visit the flooded mangrove forest, which is home to many kinds of wildlife, by small boat if you like.
Apart from the beautiful natural landscape, the most valuable part is to see the lifestyle of locals on the lake, including children returning home with a paddle boat and bathing in the river, women or children trying to sell fruit and souvenirs by boat, even washing their hair and dishes.
Residents in floating villages
The villagers are ethnic Vietnamese and Cham. They originally came to Cambodia to work during the French Protectorate. After the Khmer Rouge took power, many were killed or deported back to Vietnam. Without the certification that proves their Cambodian identity, they are considered stateless migrants and so they can't buy land.
All the villagers fish for a living. There are around 4-5 members in one family, and different generations usually live close to each other. Most of the houses are built on tall stilts or floating on bamboo rafts. There are also some hospitals, schools and churches built there.
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Floating villages in Siem Reap
There are several communities living on Tonle Sap Lake, which provides abundant water resources to all life. Four of them are the main ones developing as tourism destinations and easy to get to from Siem Reap: Chong Kneas, Kampong Phluk, Mechrey and Kampong Khleang.
Chong Kneas Floating Village
It is around 16km away from downtown Siem Reap and is the closet village with more than 5,800 residents, many of them Vietnamese. The village is picturesque, as the houses are painted in different colors. It is also the terminal for the boat to Battambang and Phnom Penh.
This place is mainly serving the Korean market and is too commercial for tourists. Be careful with the tourist traps; you may think you are helping the community by paying the entrance fee or buying souvenirs. As a matter of fact, the locals do not get any of it.
Kampong Phluk Floating Village
The name means “harbor of the tusks” in Cambodian. It has three villages with mainly tall stilted houses. There are around 3,000 inhabitants, primarily Khmer. It is about 30km drive from Siem Reap and can have different appearances, depending on the water level.
You will see the real local villagers busy with their routines like fishing, doing laundry, cooking, children paddling to school, rather than trying to sell things to the tourists. You can hardly imagine that there are also pigs, cats, chickens and dogs living there. The villages are surrounded by flooded mangrove forest. It offers an opportunity to see the original scenery and wildlife like macaques. You can see sunlight through the trees – a really peaceful adventure. It is absolutely worth to spend $8 per person more for this optional tour.
Meychrey Floating Village
This is a newly discovered community, around 25km southeast of Siem Reap and midway to Prek Toal, where Core Bird Reserve is located. As one of three large villages with thousands of locals, there are fewer tourists visiting, making this area undeveloped and retaining traditions well.
Villagers move their houses based on the river level, and Meychrey is more beautiful in wet season since the houses are near the pagoda. Even though the living conditions are tough, you still can see smiles on people's face. Donations and any contributions are welcome, especially for the children.
Kampong Khleang Floating Village
It is the village furthest away from Siem Reap, about 50km. There are about 6,000 residents living in both stilted and floating houses. Despite the remote location, the fertile environment provides a good condition for economical growth, and the population is increasing.
Compared with the other three, this village has the most complete community system – including schools, pagodas, clinics, supermarkets. The best thing is that the boat service is still run by the locals, which means that they can get a part of their incomes by taking tourists on boat trips around their village.
Important tips for visiting a floating village
For a better experience, please take the following information into consideration:
- Best time to visit the floating villages in Siem Reap:
Tonle Sap Lake dries out during the dry season (from October to March), so the best time for visiting is the wet season, namely during late April to September. In dry season, some of the houses are presented completely in front of you. They are on high stilts of around 6-10 meters and you can walk on the area which will be under water in wet season.
In contrast, during wet season it is literally a floating village; the stilts are all flooded by the Mekong river, and villagers have to take a small boat to get into their houses.
- Transportation to the floating village:
If you book a tour with us, we will arrange private transportation with guide service for you. The guide also escorts you when visiting the villages during the boat trip and transfer you back to the hotel.
We recommend you to rent a tuk tuk to the port for boarding the small boat if you are traveling independently. The price is different, based on which village you would like to go. It is best to consult with the hotel reception to avoid traps of inflated prices.
This tour includes a boat trip for visiting floating villages, the flooded forest or the bird sanctuary. For your security, please make sure all of you, especially children, wear the life jackets, and please do not let the kids jump up and down on the boat.
- Some discomfort heads-up:
People have been living there for a long time. Their waste and the animals' waste go straight into the lake, which makes the water smelly. The boat for visiting the floating villages has a simple engine and maks a loud noise. All you can do is concentrate on enjoying the water world.
Some of the local kids may try selling you fruit and drinks by paddling boat; some will show you a snake around their neck. Please do support them with just a small note.
No matter when you visit, sun protection is important: a hat, long-sleeve tops, sunglasses and sun screen. Some snacks and drinking water are necessary as not everything is available.
Normally, we will include a half-day floating village trip if you are staying for more than 3 days in Siem Reap. However, low water level during the dry season strands the boats, so we only recommend it for the wet season. Make your request when contacting us (contact-us button).
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Cambodia is nearly always visited together with at least one of its neighboring countries, often Vietnam or Thailand. Your experience in this amazing country, however, will be enough to make the long flight all worthwhile.