There were various package deals going out to the Chong Khneas floating village near Siem Reap but we decided to do it alone. We booked a tuk tuk for the return journey for $8. It’s about 15kms out to the village along a quaint road with lots of sights along the way: lotus crops, huts, stores and people going about their daily activities. Our private boat was another $15 each for about 2 hours. We would have happily shared our boat and private guide (Shopal) with others because it had enough seats for about 16! With water levels low, (less than 2 metres when it can be over 10 metres) our first sight of the rather dirty canal was somewhat disappointing. But it got better!
At the end of the canal, when we hit the Tonle Sap Lake, the water quality improved, as did the views. There were many hand-built floating homes and other buildings. Shopal explained that most people would rather live on the land, but living in a floating home is free. He had grown up in one of the villages and while it’s great when it’s calm, he said that at times it was quite scary when storms and torrential rain hit. Shopal had lost an uncle and two cousins in a boating accident. Many lives are lost over time.
There was a Vitnamese section and a Cambodian section. Also in the mix was a store with lots of supplies, a school/orphanage, a floating basketball court, a mosque and a Catholic church. Some of the homes were quite flash while others were dangerously flimsy. The ones with kids all seemed to have protective wire mesh surrounding them to prevent them (hopefully!) from falling into the water, but the villagers seemed more than happy to let extremely young kids out on the water in boats. We saw kids as young as four paddling boats with their two year-old siblings on board!!
We stopped off three times on our tour: at two stores and at the school/orphanage. When we arrived at the first store we were met by a flotilla of small boats, many carrying small kids with gigantic snakes wrapped around their necks! They were seeking, and often getting, $1 for photo opportunities. The whingy “one dollar, one dollar” cry grated after a while, but we donated. At the store, as well as the usual basic supplies and souvenirs for the tourists, there were two enclosures. One was teaming with catfish and the other was packed with crocodiles, which became a bit willing when the fish were thrown in. One Japanese lady freaked out at the crocodile enclosure when one of the snake-wielding children crept up behind her!
At the second store you had the option of buying food supplies to donate to the school/orphanage. The store was staffed by one of the teachers, even though it was school holidays. We donated a carton of noodles from the store and a bag of pens we had bought back in Siem Reap. The school visit was great. The building was partially enclosed to avoid losing kids in the water. However, they had to jump half a metre from one boat to another and many hung over the edge playing in the water. Of the 316 kids, over 50 are orphans. They were all pleased to see us! In spite of all the visitors and donors the school seemed genuinely in need of more support.
We returned along the canal to our tuk tuk. The kids washing, people fishing or shrimp-harvesting, seemed unfazed by the water quality.
We saw some awe-inspiring sights. Highly recommended.