Tuesday, November 22nd, was my family’s second full day in Siem Reap. In the morning, we hopped in our van and took the bumpy ride from Siem Reap toward Lake Tonlé Sap and the village of Chong Khneas…
Ok – technically that video was probably recorded on the return trip. The point is the bumpiness. The flooding that occurred in the weeks before we visited had softened the clay in the road bed, leading to potholes that had been repaired with varying degrees of success.
While on the road (and also on the water – as the pictures below show), we could see a large outcropping of land: Phnom Krom.
The top of Phnom Krom is the location of one of three Angkorian temples built during the reign of King Yasovarman at the end of the ninth century. (Phnom Bakheng, which we had visited two days earlier is one of the other two.) We didn’t take time to stop at this location, but continued on toward Chong Khneas.
Chong Khneas is the floating village on Lake Tonlé Sap that lies closest to Siem Reap. At the end of the road from Siem Reap, there is a brand new boat terminal where one can pay $15 per adult for a ride out to the village.
Unfortunately, most of that money is probably going to the company that built the fancy boat terminal, rather than the boat drivers. Nevertheless, off we went…
It wasn’t long before we were approached by some opportunistic vendors…
The man in the blurry photo (above) maneuvered their boat right beside ours, and the kid jumped right on over to sell us water, coke, and possibly a few other soft drink selections. Unfortunately for him, we were all packing water, as we did anywhere we went. Soon thereafter, a boat carrying a mother and two children also came alongside. One of the children was carrying a python with her, and offered some photo opportunities in exchange for a little money. Unfortunately for them, our girls were frightened of the snake.
One of the odd things about this little excursion was finding that there is a cell phone tower built in the middle of the lake. It’s powered by solar panels.
Indeed, cell phones are one of the big changes in Cambodia since Ordinary Spouse and I visited ten years ago. Anyone who can afford one has one. In fact, the country was so eager to enter the wireless age that they skipped right over the wired age in many places. Mr. Guest Complacent told us that two different government agencies thought that they had the authority to sell the available wireless frequencies, meaning that there is now overlap in usage. Apparently, that’s still being sorted out.
A few kilometers out – two? five? – we started encountering floating houses. The village would have been even further out in the lake, but the water was so high this year. The boats were generally anchored down around water plants.
Apparently, there are about 3000 people living in this dispersed community. They are a mixture of Khmer, Vietnamese, and Cham (an ethnic group now associated with the Muslim populations in Vietnam and Cambodia). Everything needed for a village (plus some extras) could be found somewhere: stores, schools, a Catholic mission, even karaoke bars!
Visiting this village made me a bit uncomfortable. It is interesting to see how people are able to live in unusual locations. At the same time, the villagers have become (at least in some sense) the tourist attraction. Given the open nature of the house boats and the close proximity at which we passed as we floated through some of the channels, we could have stared right into some of their homes. I certainly wouldn’t be pleased if you drove slowly through my neighborhood and peered in through my front window.
And it is clear that this particular village has been changed by all of the visitors that it gets, as is evidenced by the visitor center – the floating visitor center…
The center had a number of attractions. Outside there were catfish and crocodiles to be seen:
Inside, there were some educational exhibits about the lake and the people who live there. There were also souvenirs, clothing, trinkets, and fabric for sale. Unfortunately, the souvenirs related mostly to Angkor and not to the lake. I was really hoping to be able to purchase the informational map that they had in the educational section of the center, but it wasn’t for sale.
On top of the visitor center, there was an observation deck:
I also created a 360° panorama from the observation deck. But be warned before you open it: it’s a very large file. (Nor is it high quality, but hey – the software was free.)
After the visitor center, we made our way back to the boat terminal and to land. We gave our driver (an 18-year-old who lived in the village) a tip since we figured he wasn’t getting much from the fares that we paid. From there, we returned by bumpy road to Siem Reap. Lunch in Siem Reap was the “Guest Complacent special” – a mixture of whatever my in-laws thought would be tasty. On this particular day, we enjoyed two separate dishes featuring prahok.
Up next: an afternoon visit to Artisans d’Angkor