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Cambodia (Day 34) Kompong Phluk Floating Village Local Life on Tonle Sap Lake

Floating Village Local Life! After seeing Angkor, we decided to get a taste of rural Cambodia with a tour of one of the floating villages of Tonle Sap Lake. This was a definite highlight of trip!

Tonle Sap (Great Lake) lake, the largest lake in Southeast Asia, declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO has one of the strangest events in the world. During the rainy season, the stream of the river changes directions and the lake expands and contracts with the seasons. From November to May (dry season), the lake empties into the Mekong River. Once the rainy season begins, however, the waters reverse to form the enormous lake. We were lucky to come during the rainy season to take the boat ride.

During pre-travel planning, Sam had inquired if we would be interested in a floating village tour. I had read horrendous reviews, but felt sure that there was a way to tour Tonle Sap with a positive experience. It seemed that most of the complaints surround the nearest village Chong Kneas, describing it as crowded and full of scams. A couple other further villages are recommended instead - Kompong Phluk and Kampong Khleang with the latter (and furthest from Siem Reap) supposedly the best one. Sam had written in his email that he would be taking us to Kompong Phluk. I think I would have been fine with any of the villages as I think the majority of bad reviews are due to poor planning or misguided expectations.  After Sam responded to my questions that 1) he would accompany us on the boat and 2) it would be a private boat, I was fine with his plan for us to see Kompong Phluk and excitedly had looked forward to this day.

No early wake-up on this day, we had an arranged meet time with Sam for 7:30am. We slept in and had a slow breakfast. So strange to get started this late - hahahaha. 
Sam had expressed some concerns about the quality of the road to the floating village with the recent rain. He said sometimes he can't get to the boats because of the ongoing construction causing muddy slippery roads when it rains.  

We took our time with a drive through small villages and rice fields to stop on the side of a LONG dusty road. It seemed like such a random spot.  Depending on the time of year, the water level will determine how far you go before getting on your boat. 

Kids were wondering what's next as we stood on the side of this dusty road. Hahahaha. We had no answer as we were confused too. You want some grilled snake while we wait?

Rob and I wandered over to watch Sam arrange our tour with the boat ticket "office". There are a bunch of reviews online that describe the atmosphere at the tent as less than congenial and run by a "mafia organization". I don't know about all that, but it was entertaining to watch the men shouting back and forth. We couldn't understand what they were saying, but we assumed they saw our two clowns, I mean kids, and nobody wanted us. Just kidding. It was sorted and we had our boat operator.

Alrighty, follow me. We don't ask questions. We just go.  

Heads up - as you go to your boat, somebody will try to take your photo. Allow them and SMILE! Later, after you complete your tour, they will offer you a wonderful keepsake. We bought all 3 (of course). I can't remember how much they cost, but we LOVE them!

We clambered across a couple boats to board ours. Our long boat was set up with a few loose wooden chairs. Oh man, hands down, we got the most rickety boat anyone ever did set eyes upon. There was an open engine in the back, no cover at all. Propeller blade was rusty and sharp, like something easily capable of killing zombies should it come to that. Hahahahaha. We looked at all the "fancy" boats along us. Hmmmm.....

As usual, the kids are awesome and just full of excitement! They both picked their chairs. Rob moved them up closer to the front. Just you know, to be further from the engine - hahahaha.

With no real introductions, we set off. Hmmm, looks like a dad and two of his sons. Wow, the younger one gets to control the boat. He looks like Caitlin's age. Caitlin starts going on and on about how if she lived in Cambodia, then she would get to operate boats. She is speaking so loudly that I wonder if is she is trying to get hired or at least a test drive.

So anyways, turns out the adult is not the dad (or maybe he is, but we aren't sure), but merely a hitchhiker needing a lift to his boat. We drop him off at a flooded boat along the way. Boy, he is going to be busy bailing water. As we are pulling back out into the narrow canal, we get stuck. Then, somehow, we end up completely horizontal to the canal. It's great fun, but we do scratch our heads as to how we got this boat that is now operated by two kids.

We come along the village and take in the sights. Wow - these houses are a lot higher off the ground than I imagined. Amazing structures that actually look pretty solid. 

The village of Kompong Phluk is home to about 3000 predominately Khmer fishing people. We saw people going about their daily tasks as we passed a couple schools, a large Pagoda, and many stilted homes (built this way to adapt to the changing water levels). It was eye-opening to see how the vast majority of Cambodians live as fishermen/farmers as we got an insight into their way of life. They have so little - no electricity, no running water, but the kids run around giggling and so happy as we all wave to each other. 

From the village, we transferred to rowboats and went through a flooded forest!

We were split on two boats (Rob with Caitlin, Molly with me). It's a very flat boat, kind of neat. Our paddlers try hard not to smile, but we were determined. Aha, we SORT of got a smile from ours. It's debatable.

But, look at the smile on this lady as she grabs their boat and pulls them into her trap. Hahahah. You know what happened next, right? 

We slipped by, but had to wait for them. They sure took a long time.

They finally escaped after she took all of their money. Hahahaha. I don't know what happened, but apparently Rob bought snacks for his paddler, packs of notebooks for school kids, and snacks for the seller. Wait, you bought snacks for the person selling the snacks? I'm dying.

Molly told me that she liked it when we moved in front of Rob and Caitlin as she liked seeing the unblocked view of the expansive forest.

Somehow they got in front of us again.

We ended up at a different platform than the one we departed from. It appeared to be some sort of restaurant. It was too early for a meal, so we didn't really check it out too closely. Sam was there to take us back to our waiting boat and we continued our cruising.

Finally, as we came around the floating village, we motored out onto the great lake of Tonle Sap itself and marveled at its size. It's not as calm and it is much deeper water. Being the non-swimmer (yes, again, I know, I took adult swim 3 times, it's just not happening, quit asking), I immediately become aware that I'm not wearing a vest. On the ricketiest boat that ever did cruise on water. Hahahaha. It's just a quick peek of the open lake and we are soon back in the village. Whew!

On the return, we ran out of gas (of course we did - hahahahaha) and our captain (the 13 year old boy) had to get out and first scavenge for a container, and then run off to hunt for fuel. This addition to our adventure is kind of awesome actually. 

We just kind of chill and I take a million pics as we wonder when our captain will return. But, we are very glad that we are not him running around in the heat trying to find fuel.

Kids aren't even fazed. I'm surprised they are just sitting there still looking around at the sights. They were probably just hoping that I wouldn't suggest we get out of the boat and take a look around.

Yay, he's back and, oh, wow, that container looks heavy. He was gone a long time. He must have walked the entire length of the village. Then, his brother does as older siblings do and starts chewing him out about something. Younger brother glares back as if to say, you did nothing. Oh my gosh, I'm sort of chuckling to myself. Kids, no matter where in the world, they are all the same.

My sweaty kids were thrilled that we were soon moving again as there was no breeze.

Impressive fishing traps on this boat.

We asked our crew of 2 lovely brothers for pics. The older one shoved his little brother next to Caitlin. Hahahaha, kids.

Our boat operators were two brothers and they were so cute! The 13 year old piloted the boat and his older brother (17) managed the motor and propeller. We got stuck a couple of times. We ran out of fuel. Our boat was the sketchiest one on the water, but you know what? This crew made for a GREAT tour that we will never forget!

We said our goodbyes and gave a big tip to the boys. As we walked back onto the dirt road, we were approached to purchase keepsakes. It was quite a surprise because we had forgotten having our pics taken earlier. We could have just gotten the one, but the cost wasn't much, so we got all of them. I have the family one in our foyer and the girls each have one in their rooms.

We also left with a huge stack of school notebooks for a souvenir. Boy, Caitlin was mad when Sam told her that there was no school at the village to donate her notebooks. She felt adamant that she had a mission to give them that had been thwarted. So, we told her to take them to school to hand-out in class and use the moment to tell kids in her class about Cambodia. At least she didn't buy snacks for the snack seller. Hahahaha.

This was a fantastic way to wrap up our last day in Cambodia. I had initially been worried about how my kids would react to sights of extreme poverty, but surprisingly, they just didn't seem to notice. They just seem to accept that people everywhere are different, but not different. I hope the kids remember what they saw and appreciate our home and things that they are fortunate to have, but even if they forget, I think it is good that they were exposed to these sights. That's a wrap for Cambodia!

Cost: $20 per person boat ticket (not needed for the kids), Sam's fee $30. 

Up Next: Stuck in Cambodia! Wait, what?

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