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  • Writer's pictureDeb Smithers

Stilt Houses of Cambodia - Kampong Phluk

-: Living on the water : -

I had jumped from Australia to Europe, then onto Asia, and with such excitement, I was to finally visit Cambodia. Several people had warned against traveling to the country and that Cambodia was not the ideal place for a solo female traveler, hence why it took so long to finally take the journey there, and I guess that can be said of any country, it does depend on what part you travel too. This destination was the remarkable province of Siem Reap.

Most people say they have a country they have fallen in love with, and I am one of those people. From the moment I landed in Cambodia, it had a warm, harmonious feel to it. The airport was controlled and organized and I felt safe and calm, even after arriving with no cash other than a little rupiah and my arranged Tuk Tuk was a no-show. Within a moment, a stall worker had arranged a Tuk Tuk to take me to the town center and collect the fee tomorrow, what a winning way to be welcomed into a country.

Cambodia has so many wonderful places to explore and things to experience, but my visit was short. So, on the top of the list was, of course, The Magnificent Angkor, Wat Bakheng Hill sunset, Ta Prohm Temple, Kampong Phluk, and the charm of the floating villages. Thrown in there was the possibility of experiencing the age-old tradition of the Sak Yant Tattoo, and a blessing from the Buddhist master which I had imagined would be an interesting experience. As for sampling all the creepy, crawly foods that are to be found in the night food markets, well I am just not that willing when it comes to trying weird foods.

My first adventure sees me loaded into a little van at the crack of dawn to travel an hour depending, to Ro Lus food market in Prasat Bakong and then by boat to see the floating villages which I had always wanted to see. The driver was lovely, although the language barrier did not allow us a lot of conversation, it was a 2-hour game of charades with a lot of laughter. When we arrived, I was shown the way and how to get a boat needed to head up to the floating villages, I was overwhelmed by how obliging and happy all the locals were toward visiting travelers.

The Ro Lus market has everything the locals need, being a wet and dry market. A small bamboo shelter has been constructed for the locals to offer refreshments to the visitors before they board their boats. A sheet, tied onto 2 sticks covering a bucket on the ground serves as the public toilet, a good reason to hang on a little longer.

There are stalls of old clothing, dried fish, pig heads and organs, bats, crickets, and spiders. Not a place to visit for those with a weak stomach.

Luckily, I managed to spot fried bananas being cooked in a big iron pot and that appeared my safest option for breakfast before taking the boat journey.

I began to head up the river and I wandered about the difficulties the villagers must face over the arduous dry months when the water subsides. The locals are then faced with water shortage, and unable to practice any fishing activities.

During the dry season, when water levels are low, watercraft face difficulties in reaching villagers and further isolating them.

On this visit, the waters have begun to rise and as I travel further up the river, I can see locals sitting on the river's edge, sifting through the mud and trying to catch any remaining small fish. Cambodia's countryside is dotted with these architectural gems which we recognize as stilt houses, being part of Cambodian culture. Offering solutions to the country's wetlands and flood-prone areas, commonly found in rural areas and along the Tonle Sap Lake.

As I arrive at Kampong Phluk stilt houses, also known as 'Chong Kneas', the boat peacefully glides through the water it's remarkable, to Float alongside these impressive homes and little schools, enjoying the beauty of these traditional wooden structures standing above the water.

Many stilt houses have been painted in vibrant colors such as bright blues, greens, and yellows adding to their visual appeal set against the backdrop of the lake. The houses are often adorned with ornamental carvings and decorations to showcase the craftsmanship of the local people.

They are built on sturdy wooden stilts, allowing the houses to stay elevated above the water or ground. As you slowly drift past you notice the intricacies of the architectural design, the raised platforms, sloping roofs, and open spaces underneath the houses. I remember feeling so grateful to be there and to have witnessed them myself.

The village is built on stilts, and during the dry season, the houses tower above the exposed ground. However, when the waters rise during the rainy season, the entire village seems to float, giving it a unique and surreal appearance.

The stilt houses in Cambodia possess a certain stunning beauty, but they also represent the challenges and realities faced by those living in these areas. Many face issues related to poverty, access to basic amenities, and vulnerability to environmental changes. It's crucial to approach these communities and their homes with respect and cultural sensitivity when visiting.

After drifting along the Floating villages, I arrived at a small floating bamboo jetty where it was time for a quick boat change as the next part of the journey will take me through the mangroves and up to the lake's entrance. You pay the women to take you through on their boats for a very minimal fee.

Passing through the mangroves is so peaceful, hearing nothing but the gentle sounds of nature. The scenery is picturesque and the resilience of the landscape is incredible. You see clothing drying on the trees with old boats attached and I guess this is home to many who live among the mangroves. I have a quick thought of the crocodile skulls on the Jetty and wonder, how many crocodiles are in these waters? The boat ladies are quite funny and assure me that I am in no harm today.

The children are very inquisitive, they would rather stand back and observe. On the jetty, there is a box of used pencils and paper you can purchase to donate to the children of the village. It was a simple something that came with such sincere gratitude.

After boarding the old traditional long-tail boat you begin your journey through a network of very small waterways winding between the dense mangrove forests

In silence, we began gliding through the mangroves, surrounded by lush greenery and towering roots, it was a serene and enchanting experience. Witnessing local fishermen with their traps and casting nets. It's a unique ecosystem, serving as protection against floods and providing habitat for plants and animals.

The Boat takes me to the end of the waterway, on the edge of the magnificent Tonle Sap Lake to board a larger boat that will take me out further to enjoy the marvelous sunset on the lake. And sure enough with the perfect evening and vibrant colors of the sunset, it was the perfect ending to an incredible day.

Taking the ride back down the waterway and along the stilt houses was an entirely different experience and I was happy to witness them both day and night.

Cambodia is such an inexpensive country to travel around, and it's simple, just put the word out there, where you wish to go, and before you know it, it's all sorted for you. This adventure to Tonle Sap Lake is well worth adding to the list when traveling to Siem Reap. The locals are incredibly kind people.

On this trip, I managed to do all the things I had on my list....

...and you may wonder, the Sak Yant tattoo?

Life is a great big canvas, throw all the paint you can on it!


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