Floating Villages of Siem Reap

How long have you stayed in water at a stretch? A pool-goer will answer: a couple of hours while the answer could be a whole day by a sea-surfer. Fishermen spend days, even months at sea, so do sailors. None of them, however, spend their whole life in water. But there are people who live their entire life in water — they are born, do live and die in water. You would have visited wonders of water-worlds which are an unavoidable element of theme parks, a top-end entertainment-product of consumerism, but that had been only to the extent of a few hours during an occasional outing. But imagine a community that spends its whole lifetime in water!  Welcome to Floating Villages — the surprising  water-worlds that many of you might not have heard about!

Siem Reap, a province in Cambodia, is located on the northwestern part of the country. The province and its capital has the same name: Siem Reap, which is a sought after destination by tourists due to the attractions like Angkor Wat, Bayon,  Bahuon, Floating Villages, etc. I took a bus — 6-hour journey — from Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city, to Siem Reap, on September 23, 2012, looking forward to visit these tourist spots. Tuk-tuk is a mode of transport in the city, and I hired one for my 3-day visit. One the day of arrival, I had the afternoon left to spend as the next day was reserved for Angkor Wat, so the driver of the tuk-tuk told me to capitalize the half-day by making a trip to a floating village — it is called floating village because all the dwellings of the village are in a state of floating-but-still in water. They remain still with temporary anchoring. There are four such villages around Siem Reap.

I reached the the jetty around 3 p.m. and hired a boat for the cruise to the nearest floating village, Chong Khneas, situated in the Tonle Sap Lake. It was a 3-hour visit that gave me pleasant surprises and showed hard realities which were beyond what I expected before I began the cruise.

It saddened me to find an young boy behind the steering wheel assisting the driver. He is a trainee, I was told. The water-road to and from the village was clearly-invisibly marked, with ‘the open thoroughfare’ having disciplined two-way traffic. Such traffic discipline was needed to avoid any potential accident in the water.

A billboard on the ‘roadside.’

The floating village is a self-sufficient mini-world in itself. They have schools, hospitals, supermarkets, churches, transport system, recreation centers and almost all that are needed for people to lead a moderate life. Here, life in water is not a fun-living but the way of life. The moving columns of water are their courtyard and backyard. The place is just like any other village, except that it is a world of floating souls.

Supermarket:

Restaurant:

Church: 

The church has an orphanage housed at an adjacent building for physically challenged children. One can visit the orphanage and spend time with the children. As a goodwill gesture, you can buy foodstuff from the nearby supermarket and present it to the children.  

Recreational Center:

In-house playing ground for the children:

Canoes are, naturally, the mode of transport. Children have both onshore and offshore playgrounds. I saw children playing on/in the water-ground — they are good swimmers as swimming for them is like walking for us.

Couple of Houses at the Floating Village:

A family at the façade:

Our children play with dogs or cats, but the children at a floating village play with snakes, their natural friends. It, infact, is not a play but livelihood. They showcase their snake-playing skills before tourists and earn money from it. 

The residents of the fishing villages are of Vietnamese and Cambodian origins, living as stateless citizens. They had been like this for centuries, and the efforts by the local governments to relocate them to land were not met with much success although some of them agreed and resettled onshore. They love to live in water so much so that they move to offshore when water levels in the lake go down.

Fortunately I got the opportunity to visit many places across the globe, but the visit to the floating village gave me a rare and inexplicable feeling touched by the life I had seen there – felt sad for them though I knew that my sadness was meaningless as they were leading a happy, normal life of their choice. A different and memorable experience that is still afresh in me.

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