The Floating Village of Kampong Khleang
About an hour southeast of Siem Reap is the village of Kampong Khleang. We arrived in February during the dry season while Cambodia's largest fresh water lake (Tonle Sap) is at its lowest level. The lake swells from 3000 sq Km in the dry season to 12000 sq Km in the wet season. Our guide, Chamnan, drove us there and arranged for a local low water capable boat to take us down the river to the lake for a sunset tour of the floating village. The houses along the road to the boat are built on poles, many 25 feet high, high enough to keep the floor level of the house at least 3 feet above water during the wet season. The road itself is several feet under water during the wet season requiring travel for the 20,000 residents to be by boat. What happens to scooters and equipment, and how about the livestock? Everything has to be moved up to the floor level of the house, even the cattle and other livestock.
The people live simply, drying fish for use later, growing vegetables and doing whatever is necessary to survive their fairly isolated lives. They are happy, very friendly people. The children followed along with us as we rode and then walked through the village smiling, waving to us, and saying "good bye, good bye!" as we made our way to the boat dock and our young boat driver. The boat ride on the river toward the lake took us past many other houses on stilts and then out to farm land with only a few houses spaced good distances apart. These houses are used only by the farmers and the workers, Chamnan said. When the work is done, they return to their homes in the village.
When we reached the lake we could see in the distance what looked like a village, a group of houses, but this time instead of being built on poles, they are floating, sometimes on pontoon like barrels, sometimes as a large boat or several smaller boats connected together. They are powered by generators and by solar power. Some even have satellite dishes! All the day to day activities such as bathing in the lake, laundry, even growing a garden happen on board these house boats. Some of the houses act as trading posts, there is even a school building, but no medical or pharmacy services, and no post office. As the lake gets lower in the dry season (January and February are the driest months), the houses are moved further out into the middle of the lake where they are now, They are moved about by outboard motors and by using long poles. The rains begin in May, and August and September receive the most rain. During that time, the houses will be moved closer to shore, Chamnan indicated a good distance away to where we could see a mangrove forest. He said we should return in November to see the lake at its highest stage and a totally different world here in the village.