Kampong Khleang Floating Village, Cambodia.
Kampong Khleang Floating Village, Cambodia.
There are a number of fascinating floating villages peppered around Siem Reap province. Back in my 2015 SR days,I embarked on a half day trip to Kampong Phluk, one of the most popular villages with overseas visitors. Indeed seeing the remarkable stilted houses and observing people’s traditional lives had been a special experience that stayed with me.
This time around Sladja was keen on seeing a Cambodian floating fishing village herself. Not wanting to simply go back to Kampong Phluk, I got some advice from the city agency Ai Mei Travel and consequently settled on another floating community, Kampong Khleang.
Hiring a driver for the day, we made the 55km journey from central Siem Reap in just under an hour and a half. By this point we’d grown used to and had even become a little underwhelmed by the largely scorched landscape that rushed by our windows.
However, things livened up when, at last, we branched off into a series of twisty lanes before pulling up on a large stone square. Situated on the edge of a sleepy river, the square was home to a handful of wooden stilt houses and a large, striking pagoda.
Our arrival certainly raised some eyebrows among the locals. One man, leaning over the balcony of his impressive stilt house, shouted questions down to our driver. Who were we? Where did we come from? How come we hadn’t fled Cambodia, like all the other tourists?
Kampong Khleang Floating Village, Cambodia.
We also found ourselves surrounded by a group of curious children and a scruffy dog. They whooped and cheered, they cried hello and in the case of one boy there was even a blown kiss. I guess not many people popped in that year during the tourism apocalypse of April, May, June and July.
They were particularly delighted when I treated them to a handful of change in Cambodian Riels. And didn’t waste any time whatsoever in scurrying off to a nearby store to buy candy and soda.
The village square sits on a hill overlooking the pretty river which provides local fishermen with access to Tonlé Sap Lake. I was surprised to learn that Kampong Khleang is the largest floating village in Siem Reap province. In fact, there are around ten thousand residents spread out across numerous huddled communities. Due to seasonal flooding, all the homes here are towering wooden stilt houses.
In the rainy season families concentrate on fishing for a living. In the dry season they turn their hands to farming. Fruit and veg is the order of the day, with an emphasis on snake beans and watermelon. Although our visit came during the rainy season (May to November), our driver explained how that year large sections of the river had dried up because of unusually low rainfall.
Siem Reap Province, Cambodia.
As a result, the locals had difficulties getting out onto the lake to fish. This lack of rainfall, along with the effects of COVID-19, had brought seriously tough times to Kampong Khleang. In addition to not being able to catch enough fish, they couldn’t earn money by taking us on a boat tour. This was a great pity for us too, as we wouldn’t get to experience one of the great joys of a visit to Kampong Khleang.
Normally, visitors can book village tours through Community First, a not-for-profit organisation that reinvests all income into local educational programs. Unfortunately, COVID forced them to close their doors in April 2020, though I’m happy to report they succeeded in reopening by early September.
With most of the river dried up and no boat tour possible, we made do with a self-guided stroll around the village. Following a dirt path towards the main street, we came across a couple of boat homes. They were tiny, with as many as six people living inside. I could only imagine how hot it was in there in 34 degree heat without air con, or even a fan.
From my very brief peek inside, I spied some toys, a small stove and bamboo mats for beds. As for calls of nature, residents share the two stone toilet blocks located at either end of the main street.
Kampong Khleang Floating Village.
The main street is huge! Much like the one at Kampong Phluk, there’s little to see except the stilt homes themselves. But of course it was a wonderful opportunity to meet the locals, though reactions to our presence were mixed. For the most part adults looked upon us suspiciously, while there was even an intense scowl from one mother cradling her baby from a balcony.
The children on the other hand continued to be overjoyed to see us. One tiny girl came pedalling over to Sladja and I on her giant bike. Upon reaching us she was happy just to grin, no exchange of words necessary.
This young boy also came out to greet us, his baby brother clutched in his hands. There was no sign of mom and dad. Another set of brothers were hanging out at home in their hammocks when we walked past. Upon spotting us they shot up with wide smiles and alert eyes. We exchanged some very basic introductions before they took the crumpled wedge of notes I gave them to a nearby barbecue vendor selling chicken skewers.
Next, we came upon a group of children dancing to some godawful techno music blasting out of a giant speaker. Registering our presence, one of the girls began ramping up her performance with flailing arms and legs. It was impossible not to clap and laugh along, even though the music made me want to tear my ears off.
Adventures in Siem Reap.
Elsewhere, we met a weaver working on a giant bamboo mat. A sizeable group of onlookers had gathered around to watch him. One of the young boys seemed to be in training. There were also a few elders with nothing better to do than sit and watch the whole thing unfold. Bamboo mats, I guessed, was at least one thing the villagers could get on with to generate some income during the pandemic.
I was fascinated by the weaving contraption, a hulking wooden beast embedded into the dirt. I figured it had been there a while and would probably remain right where it was until it began rotting.
Some of the bamboo mats they make serve as beds for the villagers, as we’d seen in the boat home. Locals also lay them out along the streets to dry shrimp in the afternoon sunshine. This is a common sight in all floating villages across Siem Reap province.
Several side alleys running off the main Street lead down to the river. Here, we found a few families pottering around on their boats. These two women and their children were about to set off down the river, perhaps in an attempt to reach the lake. They waved and smiled at us, happily posing for a photo.
Kampong Khleang Floating Village.
Kampong Khleang may not have delivered what we’d been expecting, but I’m really glad we found the time to squeeze it in. This was our last Siem Reap day trip before relocating to the city of Kampot. As swan songs go, we could have done much worse.
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Another beautiful floating village Leighton and the pagoda looks gorgeous too. Happy memories of your time living in the country.
Happy memories indeed, Marion, Thanks for checking out my visit to Kampong Khleang.
Hi Leighton… I was thinking about my upcoming trip. If I get to these floating villages is there anything I could bring for the kids? With covid and all I’m guessing the people could be struggling? Should i bring small change to hand out, food? School supplies? Would these things be appreciated or would I just come across as another privileged tourist who thinks giving a few bucks makes me mother teresa. Interested to hear your take. Thanks.
I think giving something would be a lovely gesture that the kids would really appreciate. I wish I had thought about it prior to going but I didn’t, so all I could do was give the kids some loose change. I think if you brought actual gifts like school supplies or toys or books, that would probably be the best thing. You’d guarantee that it is going straight to them and not into somebody else’s pocket.
Awesome thanks for your reply Leighton. I wasn’t sure if it was a done thing there but If it was i definitely wanted to pre plan and bring things that might be appreciated. Cheers.
And this was during the rainy season! Looks like serious drought. So they got hit by covid driving tourists away and not being able to fish too. At least some could get out for shrimp. Loved the glasses on the buddha at the pagoda.
That is one funky Buddha, you’re right. Yes it did look a bit grim for them during our visit and sadly I have the feeling the intervening years have been equally tough.
These floating communities are so fascinating. It’s pretty incredible how they’ve engineered the village so that all the homes are on wooden stilts. The lack of rain seems to be a common issue all of the world these days. It makes you wonder about the future.
It does make you worry for them. They are so dependant on the water they have in their village and to be able to get out to the lake. I wonder what kind of summer they just had. Thanks for reading guys.
What a great experience Leighton and how strange to have 2 distinct seasons (wet and dry). It has to be tough to make a good living as a fisherman when your boat is aground. I am somewhere with bad wi-fi right now, so will have to watch the vids later. Thanks for sharing and Happy Sunday. Allan
Thanks Allan, it’s funny you should mention bad WIFI as that has pretty much been the story of our day. Quite the occupational hazard when you are trying to keep an online school running. Anyhow, I’m glad that you enjoyed this virtual tour of Kampong Khleang, thanks as always for reading and commenting. Hope your Sunday was better than ours!
Wow it’s just beautiful and such a different way of life to what is ‘every day’ to us here. I love the colours and the temples and the boats. It must sometimes be a tough life, but it’s inspiring how these communities thrive on the water – we wouldn’t stand a chance in England!
I’m glad it appeals Hannah. A simpler more romanticised way of life for sure, but also one riddled with pitfalls in this era of of environmental crises. They are inspiring people, yes, and you’re also right that in England we would crumble ha ha. Thanks for your contribution to the thread.
It wasn’t the floating village tour you wanted, but it seems like it was just as great to walk around the village and meet the locals, at least those who were not scared you’d bring Covid to them. Maggie
Thanks for visiting Maggie, I sometimes find myself wondering how those kids have gotten on over the last two years.
It must have been tough with no tourist money coming in. As if their lives aren’t tough enough.
Fascinating! The floating village homes on stilts look precarious, but in contrast the people appear to be so steadfast. I suppose it is from their difficult lifestyle and what they have endured as Cambodians in general. Of course, I loved seeing the darling children! The colorful pagoda is such a contradiction to the village. It is interesting that you were able to travel so freely during the onslaught of Covid.
Yes Kellye, the kids were just wonderful and the highlight of the day for me. At the time of our visit there were no lockdowns in place throughout Siem Reap and something like 30 known cases in the entire country. We wore masks in the car with our driver and for the rest it was easy to enough to keep a respectful distance. Didn’t see a single mask among the villagers interestingly. I cannot believe this visit was over two years ago, it’s scary how fast time goes.
Time seems to disappear. Hope all is well with you both on your latest adventure!
A shame you couldn’t experience Kampong Khleang as a floating village, given that the river dried up…all the same, you had a meaningful time engaging with the locals; some of the children even had some toothy grins! I’m sure you can catch the river the next time you go!
Thanks Rebecca. I doubt we’ll ever make it back to Kampong Khleang, so I’ll be relying on you to share those (hopefully) flowing waters when you visit.
Looks like a very interesting place. It’s odd that the adults were so suspicious, but the children so friendly. That pagoda, wow, stunning!
Hey Tricia, I’m not sure if they were COVID-wary, or simply thinking ‘What the **** are these people doing here? Didn’t they get the memo about the state of the world’? Thanks for reading!
I wonder what’s become of the village and its people since your 2020 visit. Coping with such a “dry rainfall” is one thing, but having it timed to coincide with the pandemic is terrible. So many communities around the world must be devastated by the bottom falling out of their tourism based economy. We’ve already heard so many stories of people and places that may never recover.
I would be fascinated to find out what became of the people we met that day. We’ve heard similar stories to you and indeed some businesses who didn’t make it will feature in our upcoming Siem Reap cafes and restaurants series. Despite having since closed down we still wanted to share their stories.
Yes, likewise we would be fascinated too. We did hear one really disturbing consequence, from Thailand, where all of the people who earned their living on the holiday islands returned home when tourism halted. The result was that their home villages in the mountains had become dreadfully overcrowded with returnees, causing chronic food and water shortages in already poor villages. I dread to think how that one played out.
Sounds really rough. These continue to be tough, tough times for many, I’m sure that your presence as travellers will be much appreciated across Cambodia.
The pagoda at Kampong Khleang is so lovely and colourful. Great pictures of the children … but I have to agree, the music is a bit “rough” to my taste 😉. But yeah, it seems like a hard life there …
Thanks for checking in Corna, I’m glad you enjoyed this mini tour of Kampong Khleang.
Wonderful post Leighton! I love the pictures of the smiling children. I’m sure that some would see such small living quarters and reliance on the land as a sad situation, but then you see these pictures and they just radiate happiness and inclusion like they want to share their life with you. 🙂
You’re right Meg, the kids certainly didn’t look miserable. I hope they are smiling just as freely and widely two years on. They are easily the reason our visit turned out to be so memorable.
What a neat experience! That’s a bummer you couldn’t do a boat tour, but I am glad to hear they are able to do boat tours again. I love how joyous the kids look despite all the adversity they face around them.
Thanks for reading Lyssy, it’s good to have you back.
Good review of your visit to the village, I also found that young Cambodians are very natural with foreigners, both curious to see the sight and not shy to try to exchange a few words.
Thank you kindly, I’m glad you had a similar experience in Cambodia. Cheers for the read!
It is really interesting to see the unique houses on the stilts. I hope that the next seasons brought them much rain and more opportunities to fish.
Thank you Allie for reading, and for leaving such a positive comment. I hope all is well with you guys in your part of the world.
Thank you, you guys as well! We are getting ready for the autumn season over here!
The bamboo loom was fascinating – nice that you captured a video to show how it worked. Would have been nice to go out in one of those blue boats. Another interesting village and story!
It would have been great to have had a boar tour Ruth. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Thanks for the catch up!
My pleasure! Hard to keep up with people who blog so much more frequently than I do, but I always enjoy your posts.
Comparing this to your 2015 trip is so interesting and I love the focus on the people and community.
It was interesting to compare the two villages, especially with our visit coming right in the middle of the pandemic. Hopefully things are much better for them now.
I hope so too!