Phnom Penh Travel Blog› entry 50 of 86 › view all entries
Approximnately 100 km further down, the Tonle sap river, which we were following south to Phnom Pen, would meet the Mekong. In the wet season the powerful Mekong will act as a natural dam and in effect the Tonle sap lake north of us will fill up and become 12000 square km larger, forcing the many rivers that feed it to flow backwards. The meeting of two powerful rivers is fortunate, creating good living conditions for fish and leaving the land fertile in the dry season. People have made these rivers their home and Cambodia has many floating villages.
We'd ridden early and very disciplined as we knew about the floating village at kampong chang, but we didn't expect it to be as big and busteling as it is: There is a land town, a dusty inbetween port area and finally the huge floating village.
A road, framed mostly by houses on stilts, lead us out of the town center, over flood plains, towards the river. As the land strip widdend a vegetable market appeared and behind it, through gaps in the wooden shaks, we could see wetlands with rice fields and lakes stretching far into the distance. Houses were dotted towards the western end. The veggie market became a wood market and too the right old blackened colonial buildings peaked out behind the stalls. Mould and damp had damaged them beyond recognition and they looked like they may have tumbled down any minute. Further on newer buildings stood like a solid wall, preventing all the goods and evils of the port slum from finding their way through the flood plains and into the land town.
At the rivers edge, the road took a sharp left before disintegrating to a bumpy dirt track. Here a place neither on land nor on the river stretched out. It seemed like a nomans land between two different lives and many of the inhabitants must move elsewhere when the waters rise. The locals gave us surprised looks as we wandered through the small ally ways to busy dirty markets. Men asked us to drink with them and little dusty children that were playing amongst the rubbish fires stopped to greet us.
Walking back up to the main road and turning right a different city appeared: Small floating houses and houseboats ankeredd up next to each other formed long rows that stretched far into the river. Southwards the rows continued further than we could see. In contrary to on the left side the buildings on the shore here,were built on 5-10 meter high stilts. In the rainy season the floating village will rise to these houses whilst the people in the port slum must pack their belongings and shacks and leave for other work.
We asked a lady to take us into the avenues of the floating village in a small wodden boat. It had no engine and she regulary scooped out water with an empty oil canister. To our surpirise a good portion of the houses were somewhat bigger than the ones on the land, with terraces doubling as living rooms and kitchens, and with bedrooms as the back. Place is scarce and there is almost no privacy. We passed people washing in the river and could follow people in their indoor/outdoor living rooms.
Dogs and roosters lived were they were allowed whilst pigs and chikens had special built floating pigstis and chiken runs. The grocery shop passed us several times in shape of a heavy loaded boat and eventually we passed the floating bar and it's happily floating costumers. The children here were endlessly excited by our presence and waves and greetings followed us everywhere we went.
Life on the water to me, seemed a place in it's own peaceful world. Away from the land, away from the slum, in its own little space and time zone.