Venice Cambodian style

“If you’re after a real Cambodian experience, go to Kompong Luong,” Jast, a German traveler told us in Kep. And we did. It took us around 5 hours by bus, motobike and boat to get from Phnom Penh to our destination, but it was absolutely worth the effort.

Kompong Luong is a village like no other. It has everything that an ordinary village would have with the difference that everything is floating on waters of Tonle Sap lake. There are three floating villages on the lake, two in the north and one in the south. Kompong Luong is on the south and being far from touristic hubs it sees hardy any visitors. We were in fact the only foreigners there. What a joy!
The visit to the village was magical. We went on a boat tour and floated around the village for two hours marveling at how people lived there. There were houses, shops, cafes, a post office, a restaurant, a pagoda and even a Christian church and people just lived their normal lives a step above the surface of the lake. When the level of the water drops, the houses are towed by boats deeper into the lake.

You don’t like your neighbour? Just move your house. Literally!

We were staying at a home-stay with a young Khmer family that only spoke two words of English. It was a pity because we wanted to ask them so many things about how they live. Instead we had to content ourselves with intense observation. That’s exactly what we did for the whole 24 hours that we spent there. The house was on the main “street” and we had a good view of the neighbours and daily traffic. Everything happened on the water. One could only use legs in his house. Walking was replaced by rowing, car by boat. Everyone had a boat. We saw little kids going to school in miniature boats and vendors rowing up and down the main “street” selling their goods. We saw a butcher, fruit and veggie vendors, fabric sellers, drinks and refreshments lady and a florist. People would stop them waving from a window or simply shouting and a vendor pulled over by their threshold. The village also had a doctor, boat mechanics, Thai massage, tailor, pharmacy, petrol station and anything else a soul may need.

The village was set up by fishermen who wanted to save time on travel from shore to the lake and started settling right on the water. Some houses are in fact old boats converted into houses. All houses are made of wood, suspended by a thick layer of bamboo and attached to one another with tight ropes. Each house and boat was vividly painted in blue, green, red and yellow. Going around the village was like a tour of a water lunapark, with the difference that everyone was dead serious about whatever they were doing.

In Kompong Luong everything came from the water and went back to it. It had a good and bad side. It’s ecological to reuse the same water I guess, but on the other hand the villagers use it as a toilet, laundry, shower and rubbish bin at the same time. So the big question of hygene bogged me right from the start. Peeing into a hole in the floor and seeing a man washing his teeth 3 meters away convinced me that chewing gum would have to do that night.

Because of scarce electricity the village went to sleep at 10pm, but in the morning they didn’t waste time at all. At 5.30am the street was packed with fishing boats, vendors and people going to work. Every bigger boat passing close-by made our house rock on the waves. Not able to sleep, we sat on the porch to watch kids going to school, mums washing their babies, grandmothers chopping onion, men smoking the last cigarette before leaving for work.

Our boat back to the shore came at 8am and I welcomed it with a big smile. A day on the water was a unique experience, but I felt like a cat in the water there.

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