The city of Siem Reap is situated by the river Tonle Sap, and the villages start just a few kilometers away from the main city. And I not only opted for a countryside tour, I wanted to see a floating village and also wanted to know, how an entire village could float in formation!!
My tour for the day was to a village called Kompong Phluk. Going there is easy, a 40-minute drive from the city to the countryside area crossing the green rice fields, where the ferry pier stands. From there another 30 minutes by boat to the floating village. On the way, I did see other Floating villages, and they all are made of wood and strangely built on a platform which is about 6-9 feet higher from the ground level. Even some houses are built on shallow water as well, and none of them look lavish or well thought decorated.
Hence by this time, this was clear that these villages are simplest in form, and carrying the baggage of poverty for generations. By the time the boat left the group at the shore, our guide started the briefing. The assumption was correct, the faded colours of the wooden walls, the mud roads, the quiet village speak of hardships and the difficult life the people here live.
Most of the villagers are fishermen or farmers. Earn mostly on daily basis. Monsoon in these villages is the toughest time of the year. The water level rises to 5-6 feet than usual, causing floods and the roads wash away every year, and every year they rebuild the road. That is the reason, they don’t build concrete roads here, and that also spoke of the reason for the houses built so high from the ground level. Even during monsoon boat is the only mode of transport in such villages.
The little less than an hour’s tour is by foot, getting a glimpse of the village, villagers, the local schools, monastery, the local livelihood, etc. Also, I was told there are few homestays available for tourists, but surely they will be absolute basic, as you can imagine electricity came to this village just 2 years back. Just in case, if you like Smoked fish, you can try here, they get a lot of fresh Catfish in the water, and they make smoke fish with it.
Later to lighten up the mood, the tour continued to the Mangrove jungle. So we continued on the same boat which brought us to the village. After some 15 minutes, the boat took us to a floating embarkation point which kind of emerged in the middle of the river.
Once got down, we could see small pontoon-type boats lined across the other side of that floating embarkation point. So basically, from here one has to take these small boats to go for the mangrove tour. Each boat takes 2 passengers; the ticket cost is 5.00 USD per person.
Once you get the ticket from the counter, get on to the boat (if you are travelling alone like me, look for another partner, you will find plenty of solo travellers in the group or maybe some odd number friends group!!), the boat slowly moves between the dense mangrove jungle, it’s fresh thick green and so quiet everywhere, hardly we could hear the birds chirping.
That 20 minutes ride was very interesting, self-containing and having a companion at the boat is really soothing, trust me when I say this. Ok, there is another fun twist here.. There are floating shops (which are actually the same size small dinghies, only in place of carrying guests they are selling food & drinks) available during this short journey among the mangrove. Ladies selling snacks on the boat and they will stop you to convince you to buy something :)…
Later these nut-shell-like boats sailed on the deep sea and dropped us at another debarkation point which was again a floating restaurant!! And while I was getting worried as to how to find my guide, he was just there waiting for us. So what happens is, after the tour, the boats are supposed to drop their passengers to this other floating restaurant, from where guests can enjoy the sunset. Just imagine, you are standing in the middle of the river and you just have the horizon at the front, where the sun is setting at the other part of the Earth for the day, how the sunset can be like then??
There are one or two more sunset points like this I saw far away, all these places sell food (do buy something as a part of it goes to the development of the local villages) and let the guests enjoy the magnificent sunset. The sun shows its rainbow shades and what all shapes it takes.. it was really one of a kind I have had seen so far.
In case you are curious like me, these floating restaurants, the small boats at the mangrove.. all of them close after sunset, as the people go back to their villages.