While Angkor Wat is certainly not to be missed, spending an extra day in Siem Reap to explore nearby floating villages will give travelers a taste of local life in this incredible country.
1. Kompong Phluk
Kampong Phluk is the residence of 600 families
Kampong Phluk is located in the main entrance to the Tonle Sap Lake. It’s just over 30km from Siem Reap, which is one of the famous tourist destinations in Cambodia and travelers can experience the wonder of a floating village in only a couple of hours. Kampong Phluk is the general name of three small villages built on the water. The houses in Kampong Phluk are built on the height of about 6 - 10 m from the river bottom to avoid the flooding season in the Tonle Sap. The community sustain themselves mainly on catching fish and shrimp, but also harvest some land crops during the dry season. Besides, the tourism is also one of the income sources of residents in the village.
Around the village are the mangrove forests and indigo forests growing in the water. Visitors can visit Kampong Phluk by small boat. The cost per passenger in 2 hours is about 6-8 USD. Private tour boats float through the great lake of Tonle Sap leading to fishermen, rare flooded forests, crocodile cages and lotus fields in this 600-family community on the water. There aren’t any activities that tourists can do in Kampong Phluk as this is a working village and most of the people are focused on their own works. Literally going right past the houses of the locals can be interesting to view another way of life. There are a few floating restaurants and stopping here also supports for residents. The best time to go is in December or January when the water level drops.
2. Chong Kneas
Floating market in Chong Kneas
Chong Kneas is the closest village to access from Siem Reap, approximately 16 km. Chong Kneas Floating Village, as its name, is a village formed by many wooden boats on the Tonle Sap Lake of Cambodia. The people of Chong Kneas are mostly descendants of Vietnamese immigrants since 1900. They are considered illegal immigrants so they live in Chong Kneas have very difficult economic conditions. Their main source of income comes from fishing. However, during the flood season from June to October each year, the Cambodian government bans fishers from fishing because it is the breeding season and the people of fishing village do not know how to earn for living.
Previously, the village had no schools and children had to study on boats. Now, the children study in a school built by Vietnam Ministry of Defence. The school has 2 teachers and 3 teachers, which teaches more than 300 pupils from grade 1 to grade 5. The breakfast and lunch of the students are contributed by the benefactors. It is largely set up to serve Korean tourists, as there are numerous Korean restaurants. A boat tour of Chong Kneas – is perhaps the least popular of the floating villages because it costs about $30. The trip includes a stop at the community store to purchase massive bags of rice to donate to Chong Kneas residents.
3. Kompong Khleang
This authentic floating village that around 50km southeast of Siem Reap may not be as close as Kompong Phluk and Chong Kneas, but it is worthy to visit because it is the most beautiful village of the four floating villages in this article. It doesn’t have a lot of tourists visiting, so you will have a more genuine experience and relaxed pace.
Kampong Khleang has both stilted and floating houses, as well as many other buildings to sustain this large community such as schools, temples and a clinic. Coming to Kompong Khleang, you will see the stilt houses from far away. About 1,800 families inhabit the stilt houses that stretch into the horizon, and visitors can explore the pagodas and schools here. The village moves based on water flow according to the season. The interesting thing is that most boat tours are still owned by residents meaning your money is supporting the local community. Besides private tours, it’s possible to make your way there by tuk-tuk and hire a boat once you arrive, giving you more flexibility with timing.
Tourists can visit some temples in Mechrey
This floating village is located 25km southwest of Siem Reap. Mechrey’s community lives from fishing, and recently, the development of eco-tours. Besides buying rice for local orphans, tourists can donate money to The Lake Clinic organization which provides medical support to communities on the Tonle Sap Lake.
Best way to visit floating villages is going with a reputable tour company such as Beyond Unique Escapes, Tara Boat, Sam Veasna Center or Triple-A Adventures. Beyond Unique Escapes as well as Triple-A Adventures only run tours to Kampong Khleang. Tara Boat runs trips to Chong Kneas and Kampong Phluk, including a sunset dinner excursion. Sam Veasna Center tours go to Chong Kneas and the flooded forest, as well as Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary. It provides educational tours and facilitates conservation of wildlife areas across Cambodia.
The floating villages at Tonle Sap Lake have become an interest of Cambodian tourism. The fascination with people who live in floating houses, travel to floating schools and eat at floating restaurants are memorable experiences for many visitors.