After visiting Angkor and the amazing temples of Siem Reap you might be wondering what else there is to do in the small city. The temples might dominate most visitors agendas and indeed the majority of their time here, and rightly so, but if you want to escape the flashing lights of Pub Street and the crowds of Angkor then heading over to the floating villages is a great way to see the real Cambodia. But we warned, not all floating villages are equal, some are once again a tourist trap… we decided to head out to the furthest: Kampong Khleang where we found ourselves to be the only visitors to this wonderful village! Forget the others, come to this off the beaten track Siem Reap floating village!
An off the beaten track floating village
Outside of Siem Reap is the huge lake of Tonle Sap, it is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia and is annually fed by the Mekong. This lake is an important source of life and livelihood to this region and creates a flood-plane that enriches the soil of the surroundings areas too. This means that often the villagers that live in the stilt houses on the lake fish in the rainy season and farm in the dry season. If you want to visit a Siem Reap floating village then this is your most fascinating option.
Many who come to see life at the floating villages opt for the much closer Chong Kneas or Kompong Phluk. Many people we have spoken to said they were left disappointed by these two villages and felt they were a bit of a con. One person even told us how their boat left them on an island in the middle of the water where they were asked to pay for £50 worth of rice before being allowed back on, then there is the amount of Korea restaurants due to the number of tourists from there as well as just the sheer number of tourists boats speeding up and down.
By heading out to Kampong Khleang we had what resulted in a 100km tuk tuk ride there and back, but what we saw on that ride was almost just as wonderful as the village itself. Upon arriving we also found ourselves to be the only tourists, rather than the kids shouting out for money and locals seeing you and a quick buck, we were greeted with smiles and “hellos” as well as confused looks. This felt like we were visiting a real working village rather than just a tourist attraction!
A tuk tuk ride through the villages of rural Cambodia
Not only was visiting this amazing “floating village” itself really a stand out experince of Cambodia but the 55km tuk tuk ride through the rural landscape was also wonderful in itself. Tuk Tuks in Cambodia aren’t the quickest and most definitely aren’t like the nippy Bangkok ones we were used to. Instead over here they travel at a much more gentle pace, trundling through the fields, passed farms and small villages, at this speed you really get a chance to take in your surroundings.
55km there and another 55km back is a long way in a tuk tuk but once out of the city itself it was a wonderful way to see the countryside of this beautiful country. This Siem Reap floating village might be a little bit out of the city but it offers the most authentic experience!
Exploring this wonderful and fascinating place on a local villagers boat
After a long ride through the progressively rural settings we entered into the village. The main street that is usually underwater during the rainy season was a road of bright orange thick mud. Lined with palm trees this now revealed thoroughfare had houses rising above on either side, their stilts revealed now the waters had receded. The drive along here was slow and slippery, villagers came running out of their houses to wave and say hello, it was quite a surreal experience!
Once we got to the end of the road a group of villagers gathered and seemed to be discussing which boat was available. We were ushered onto one of the large wooden ones moored close by, the only ones on the boat, followed by one of the villagers.
He then proceeded to take us around the village, driving close by to some of the more usual buildings and pointing out things like schools, fisheries and the homes of some of his friends. Now in the dry season the level of the water was much lower, but still many of the villagers work out in the lake, but often further into its deeper central regions. The low water meant for us that the impressive stilts on which these houses seem to precariously balance were revealed. These houses are all self built and seem to rely on a complex series of wooden beams with little ordering, some of them tower over 35ft into the air above the murky waters below. This Siem Reap floating village offers such a different atmosphere to the city.
In the dry season many of the villagers work in the fields as well as in the waters fishing. Those who stay often set up true floating houses and school further down the lake in the deeper waters. These also provide a fascinating insight into the lives of the people here. Everyone uses a boat, whether high power or rowing, children, teenagers and the elderly can be seen getting around town in all kinds of boats and they are even used to get to and from school. This Siem Reap floating village offers a unique insight into the way of life here.
Here in the village they have a dedicated island for a large temple too and even for the dry season the whole town was bustling with people working and getting on with their daily lives. We didn’t see one other tourist the entire time were were here which was refreshing given how busy places like Angkor can get and how crazy the other Siem Reap floating village is supposed to get.
Being invited into one of the houses
One of the highlights but totally unexpected moments of the day was getting invited into one of the stilt houses. We were in desperate need of a “number 1” after our 1 and a half hours spent on the water. With nowhere in sight to relieve ourselves a kind family invited us inside, sat on the terrace, three generations and a little dog! Their house was as rickety as expected, walking across the wooden slats there were huge holes were we could see the lake flowing 30ft below.
Most houses here do have a limited and shared electricity supply but often no running water, their living conditions were simple and basic, and yet the smiles radiating from their faces and the warmth with which we were greeted and invited in told us of how happy and content this simple life leaves these resourceful people!
An unforgettable day and a unique experience!
To see such a way of life, a way that differs so much to ours on levels we can’t even imagine was a really special experience. Travelling to me is all about seeing how other people live and appreciating the differences in people and places all around the world. The more I travel the more I realise my true fascination lies in the people and their culture, today we got to see just a small insight into the hard lives the people of the Siem Reap floating village of Tonle Sap lead, but also the beautiful place they call home and the warmth with which outsiders are welcomed in.
How to visit this Siem Reap floating village:
To get here we hired a tuk tuk driver from our hostel, expect to pay around $15 a day for a tuk tuk. You can rent scooters too but be wary of the conditions once you get into the village. Also parking might not be the most secure.
The boat in the village then takes you on a 1.5 hours tour, expect to pay around $20 for this, your tuk tuk driver can sort this out for you and if you manage to get more people along you can get this price down.
Visas are required for UK passport holders to enter Cambodia but it is a simple and easy process. We crossed the border on foot and applied, gained our visa and entered the country very easily in under an hour. It costs around $35 (check this before you head to the border and take US$ too!). You can also get your visa before which does make it less stressful and quicker, so you can get your Cambodia visa here especially if you are going on a shorter break!
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