Kampong Phluk Floating Village, Cambodia.
Kampong Phluk Floating Village, Cambodia.
The fascinating floating village of Kampong Phluk lies deep in the countryside of Siem Reap Province. The village is home to around three thousand people, most of whom are fishermen. My visit to this amazing corner of Cambodia came on a day tour organised through Naga Angkor Hotel.
We set off early morning in a minibus for a one hour drive that took us deep into the countryside of Prasat Bakong District. Jumping out in the middle of rural nowhere, we followed our guide on foot to a waiting riverboat. Finally, we were ready for the dramatic approach to Kampong Phluk.
Chugging across the murky brown water, we soon reached the village, an amazing stretch of stilted homes set at about nine meters above water level. Kampong Phluk, our guide explained, translates roughly as Harbour of the Tusks, a reference to one of the breeds of fish that live here in The Siem Reap River.
Our first stop came at the village’s community pagoda, where we disembarked and met some of the locals. There were lots of kids milling about, along with a few opportunistic teachers. In fact, it felt a bit like they’d all been waiting for us.
The so-called educators followed us around with heartfelt pleas to buy schoolbooks, pens and other stationery. Our guide laughed the situation off, remaining mysteriously non-committal when we quizzed him on whether the money we gave would really be going to the kids. “It’s up to you if you wanna give”.
Kampong Phluk Floating Village, Cambodia.
The children themselves were generally shy but absolutely adorable. Some of them hid behind bushes, plants and the stone pillars of the pagoda. Others giggled from afar, while one little guy quietly picked a gradual path towards me. Then stopped to stare up at me with wide inquisitive eyes. For reasons I couldn’t quite put my finger on, it was a little heartbreaking.
Perhaps buoyed by the bravery of Mr. Wide Eyes, another local boy was also keen to approach in order to show off a few words of English. But he wasn’t so fearless that he could come alone. Thus he dragged his buddy into joining him, a situation his friend seemed wholly unimpressed by.
“You know, these kids do go to school, but most important is they learn everything about fishing”, our guide informed us. “How to handle the boat, fix the nets and learn carpentry skills”.
When not studying or learning about the local fishing business, you can usually find a child or two here at Kampong Phluk’s main pagoda. They might be saying their prayers, reading or even doing a bit of homework. Outside, that afternoon, I exchanged brief hellos with the two monks that run the place. They were very serious, definitely not your cute and cuddly types.
Adventures in Cambodia.
From the pagoda grounds we made our way on foot to the main street. I had never seen anything like it, a long dusty stretch that looked like something out of a Wild West movie. Or at least an Asian version with stilt houses and trash strewn across the road.
On the subject of trash, the guide revealed that the locals deliberately throw their rubbish into the street, often into various piles. A few times a week they burn the trash, hence its common to see blackened parts of the street from a recent burning.
Happily, trash wasn’t the only thing laid out across the street. Although the village fishermen catch an array of species, their livelihood is mainly dependant on shrimp. Once caught, they are put out on straw mats to dry for a day in the sun.
One of the things that struck me was that there were virtually no adults around. Just kids playing in the dirt and riding around on bicycles that were far too big for them. “Daddy is out on the lake” explained the guide. “Mum cooking…. or maybe sleeping”.
Kampong Phluk Floating Village, Cambodia.
As I explored, full of curiosity, I found myself peeking around the many stilt houses. Finally, I saw my first main street adult, a stern looking man sat on the ladder at the foot of his home. He was holding his baby son (or perhaps daughter?) in his lap and… uh oh… was staring straight at me.
I had planned on stealing a photograph of them, but now thought better of it. After a brief standoff, I plucked up some courage and motioned to him with my hand and camera. With a sombre nod he granted me the permission I needed and click, I secured what has become my favourite shot of that day.
Elsewhere, I came across a cluster of small general stores and a single stilted guesthouse. “Is for Cambodian tourist” our guide chipped in. “For western tourist this village is not interesting to stay and the hotel not so comfortable ha ha”. Furthermore, there were maybe a handful of eateries, the biggest being Ly Hour Restaurant with its vague promise of “breakfast, lunch, dinner”.
On our way back to the boat, I noticed this fresh water well sponsored by an American family from Pennsylvania. “There are a few charities that support the village” said our guide. “They make a big difference to the people here, they are grateful to many friends from different countries”.
Kampong Phluk Floating Village, Cambodia.
Beyond Kampong Phluk lies the wide expanse of Tonlé Sap, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. And that’s where we headed in our boat, the stilted houses of the village soon disappearing from view. Right on the edge of the lake we pulled up at a spectacular floating mangrove forest. It was one of those sights that was so impressive there was an audible gasp among the group.
“Hey, you wanna take a canoe through the forest?” our guide asked with a mischievous grin. As if by magic, a huddle of canoeists appeared, half a dozen or so local men and women who were all (I guesstimated) in their 60s.
Ok so the price of the floating forest trip was not included with the tour. However, every single one of us agreed to pay the $5 fee for a fifteen minute spin in one of the canoes. And boy was it worth every cent, our chauffeurs expertly guiding us between the sloping mangrove trees.
Apparently, the mangroves have uniquely adapted to this flooded environment and can survive these unusual conditions where they remain submerged for over a quarter of the year. Looking back, I can still feel how peaceful it was in there. Just the sounds of birds flapping between the trees and our guides’ paddles sloshing through the water. It was truly an unforgettable part of what had already been a fantastic tour.
The Floating Mangrove Forest.
By this point we were getting seriously hungry. Thankfully help was at hand, because from the mangrove forest it was just a few minutes to a large floating restaurant. There, with lake views stretching out from all sides, we devoured a hearty Khmer buffet of beef noodles, fried rice and grilled vegetables. Perfect.
Last but not least, we transferred to another vessel so that a local boatman could whizz us around Tonlé Sap Lake. It was a brief but thrilling excursion as we stared out at the wide expanse of muddy waters, the wind rushing through my hair.
We went so fast I only managed to grab one photo of the lake. Although I did succeed in getting a shot of the boatman’s young son, who grinned and bounced happily throughout the entire journey. “One day he will drive this boat!” laughed our guide.
It had been a long day but certainly worth our efforts. Back on the bus, rattling towards the city, we came to a sudden, shuddering halt. “Accident!” cried our guide, “we gonna have to wait”.
Kampong Phluk Floating Village.
He wasn’t kidding. Unfortunately, in the narrowest of dusty country roads, a giant truck had spun out of control and fallen on its side. So we all trudged outside to stretch our legs and watch a group of men conversing on how best to clear the road. Half an hour later, we were able to resume our journey. Not the best end to our tour, but nothing that could spoil what had been yet another fantastic adventure in Siem Reap.
A range of online operators organise tours of Kampong Phluk and Tonlé Sap. Check out Viator for a range of options.
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Looks like a great experience to see a way of life so drastically different from ours. Seeing a massive village that’s entirely floating is certainly a sight to behold. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx
Thanks Aiva, this was yet another special Siem Reap experience and one I’ve been looking forward to sharing for a while. Hope all is well with you during this challenging summer.
The appearance of the Floating Village is almost like a scene from a movie … it’s just worlds apart from what we know and are familiar with. And the canoe ride through the mangrove forest is probably the cherry on the day’s cake … what an astonishing day.
It was an incredible day Corna, I’m glad some of that magic comes off the page. A few years later, when Sladja and I lived in Siem Reap during the pandemic, we went to another of the province’s floating villages. I’ll be publishing that article on Sunday.
I am a little confused. I picture “floating village” to be like the large reed villages on Lake Titicaca in South America. The houses, play areas, cooking facilities all float around. Sometimes joined with neighbors, sometimes singly. These looked like stilt homes built next to the water. Were any of them actually floating? Love the father daughter portrait. And the little boy riding a full size bicycle. Fascinating report.
Hey Memo, you are quite right that the “floating village” term is perhaps a little misleading. A number of the homes (as seen in the third photo) are laid out on stilts that stand directly in the water. This is what they mean when they say “floating village”. Moreover, I think there are actually a few house boats that float directly on the water, though these are vastly outnumbered by the stilt houses. There are parts of the year during the height of the rainy season where you get much more of a “floating” effect, if you can call it that. Water levels shoot up and many of the lanes and roads are swallowed, creating much more of a water world feel. My next “floating village” article is even less “floating” than this one ha ha, as we visited during a bit of a drought. Still, they are fascinating places as you say, glad you enjoyed the tour.
It is always good to step outside of our “norm” and realize that not everyone lives the same as us. It does look like the kids have a good life, provided their parents work hard. They certainly have freedom. Are the houses on stilts due to water fluctuations on the lake? This may become the norm as Climate Change continues. I think Pakistan could benefit. Loved your touristy puns…canoe believe it? Also loved the smiling? gent on the right of your boat tour group shot. Thanks for sharing Leighton. Allan
You’re absolutely right Allan, the stilts are in case of a sharp rise in water levels, which are typical in this part of Siem Reap Province. A quick look on Google shows what happens to Kampong Phluk during heavy rainfall, with much more of a “floating” effect than I got to witness.
Leighton, you know I love seeing the places you visit, but the people are almost as fascinating. The children in this post are so precious, and you captured them “being” children. A canoe trip through the mangroves would be number one on my list. And this is another post that fuels my desire to visit Cambodia someday. (Did you know the man in the blue shirt at the front of the boat? He looks a lot like Andy of Andy’s World Journeys.)
Thank you for your lovely message Kellye, I’m really happy with how the people shots came out in this one. Yes the blue shirt man is a very good friend of mine from London who came to visit me in Siem Reap. I’d never thought of him as Andy, but I can see where you’re coming from.
I’ve come across floating markets but never an entire floating village before. It must have been an amazing experience.
Thanks for stopping by Marion.
We went to a similar floating village on Tonle Sap. It’s so fascinating to see how they live. I read another blog where they visited after rainy season and the water was almost to the tops of the stilts. We didn’t do the mangrove tour though, that looks like fun. Maggie
Hey Maggie, I think visiting during high water levels would take the experience to a new level, if you’ll excuse the pun. Do you remember which village you visited?
I think it was Chong Khneas, which I think is the most often visited one.
Ah yes I heard about that one, but didn’t visit. Thanks Maggie.
That mangrove forest is STUNNING! There’s something about the trees seemingly floating on top of water that has some Wonderland-like fantasy element to it. The children are extremely cute, although it’s fascinating to see just how simply and happily they all seem to live in this village, despite the poverty. Looks to be a wonderful time exploring another part of Cambodia!
Yes the mangrove forest was the gem of this day I think, especially as I hadn’t been aware of it prior to the fact. Cheers Rebecca!
Seems like a special and rewarding, but also difficult (at times) experience. It reminds me of my daughter’s experience in rural Bangladesh as a humanitarian worker. Such a sharp contrast from our way of life.
Hey Tricia, yes definitely some mixed emotions, especially when meeting the children. Thanks for reading as always, and sharing your thoughts.
It is interesting how this community really is involved with fishing and boating! The mangrove trees are spectacular.
Thanks for catching up with my latest Siem Reap posts, Allie. The mangrove trees were the icing on the cake of a wonderful day’s exploring.
Fascinating look at this floating town. I love the shrimp out on mats in the sun and the kids on their bikes. That mangrove area is amazing! All around another wonderful look at a lesser known area of Cambodia 🙂
Thank you Meg, this is yet another one of my favourites. Thanks for visiting Kampong Phluk Floating Village with me!
This brings memories back of our visit there. We didn’t see the floating village in Cambodia..these children are so adorable.
Thanks Anita, Cambodian kids are gorgeous and these village kids are among the most memorable.
This is exactly the reason to travel to see things different from what we know and your trip through these villages and the mangrove just brought that. Thanks for telling it with such sensitivity.
Thank you very much, appreciate that. I’m not sure which floating village I preferred, the next write up comes out on Sunday.
It looks amazing, I love the mangroves. That lorry is precarious on its side, so glad you managed to get back in one piece 🙂
Thanks Hannah, unfortunately such scenes are commonplace in Cambodia. Luckily we were never in the thick of such scary situations ourselves.
How meaningful, the fact that although the children’s education is of a decent standard, it’s not actually that useful when the only opportunity open to them is to fish. The mangrove looks a little different from all the ones we’ve visited, with the trees quite separate rather than densely populated, meaning you could ride between them in the canoe. I can only imagine how wonderfully peaceful that must have been.
It was Phil, very much so. I actually wish the ride had been a bit longer. Hopefully you’ll also get out to one of the floating villages, and that they are a bit more “floating” than we got to experience. I have one more to share, published on Sunday, just to give you another option.
Excellent! I also meant to say….Egypt this year, especially Luxor, the people have the same habit of piling up rubbish in the street and then setting fire to it. They then just walk away and leave a dangerously large fire worryingly close to parked vehicles.
Rock n’ Roll. And this is in the middle of the city I presume?
Indeed it was
I love the pictures that you took of some of the kids in the village. The boat ride through the mangrove forest looks enchanting.
Thanks for reading guys.
Nice slice of real life you discovered. How sad about the trash.
Thanks for reading Annie.
Amazing photos. Hopefully one day they can improve waste disposal, I saw similar setups in South America.
Thanks for dropping by Erik, whereabouts in South America?
Peru, Colombia, Venezuela. Colombia had decent sanitation in larger cities but some smaller cities had issues, same with Peru. Venezuela had more of a problem with sanitation. Typically, sanitation, plumbing and electric all seem to have issues in less fortunate countries but did see some improvements from prior visits. Colombia has come a long way with road construction. However, waste remains an issue. Often, you’ll see waste on the side of rivers or in ditches off main roads.
Sounds a bit like scenes I’ve witnessed in India and China. Thanks for your contribution to the comment thread.
An amazing set of images. Love the shot of the small boy trying with a big bike. I’m sure he grew into it!
Thanks Helen, it’s a fascinating village and the children are simply adorable.
Canoeing through the mangroves is one I would love to do! I remember hearing that the floating village in Tonle Sap varies greatly in depth at different times. Is that true also of this village? The stilted houses looks so high.
Yes I think, depending on when you go, there are wildly varying levels of “floating”. I visited the village when the water level was lowish.
What an amazing day! Those mangrove forest canoe rides look truly magical. I love how you write about everything, not just the good, but also the inconveniences and how you remain cheerful throughout!
Cheers Holly, the mangrove Forest ride felt like proper bucket list stuff at the time. It was presented to us in real time as an extra bonus, but I felt it should have been advertised front and centre on their little leaflet.