Nothing really prepares you to the reality of a floating village. When you here about it, it all sounds exotic and fascinating, another trip every tourist should put Check next to when visiting Asia. But, the reality is everything but exotic. It’s heartbreaking and inspiring.
I booked a day-trip to the floating market through my hostel. You can either go in the morning or noon and i had a lot of free time so i went with a noon trip in a group.
I was picked up at 2pm in a van, we were a group of 10 people and traveled for about an hour outside of Siem Reap. Then we took a boat ride to the floating village.
The reality of life in Cambodia hits you right in the face as you get on the boat and the journey begins. 2 small boys, around the age of 7, come up behind you and start massaging your back. I don’t know how much they expect to be paid, but i guess this is normal in Cambodia, like the children selling souvenirs at 5am in Angkor Wat.
The reality you see when you finally arrive to the floating village is not different. Wooden elevated houses greet you in the river. Colorful and quite large with boats docking under every house and boats of fishermen greeting you on the way. The flashes are out and the cameras are in action, trying to capture a perfect angle, objectifying the people, their hardships and i admit i am as guilty as any other.
After an hour ride we got there. The village and their beautiful temple. A naked boy running around, another one is walking in the distance, naked in the muddy road, while women try to sell you notebooks and pencils with a baby on their hands as the tour guide tells that only few months ago the village was connected to electricity after it was burned a couple of times. Burned houses, poor people that don’t have the means to rebuilt their house or the choice is between new home or food and clothes. Several families share one house and despite everything that happened the houses are colorful and bright.
In the center of the village, right opposite the school, a stunning temple stands, a reminder to the existence of fortune and donations, remote from the village life. School children run around the temple, through the colomns and beautiful wall paintings. They are carefree and completely oblivious to the tourists standing close, observing and wondering if this children can really experience pure happiness, disregarding everything else in their harsh reality and when comes to moment when we want more.
The next stop was a floating restaurant and an optional boat ride in the floating forest. 30 women will be waiting for you by the dock, under the sun, all day, with infants on the boat, sleeping. Another harsh detail that strikes you and pierces your heart. Or at least it pierced mine and definitely put my life and so called problems in perspective.
After about another 40 minutes of waiting to the others to return from the boat ride, we sailed into the lake to view the sunset. Again the cameras were out since the view is really spectacular and all i could think about were the people of Kompong Phluk, the floating village i was so eager to see in Siem Reap.
If you are planning to visit Cambodia or any other country in Asia, go out of the city. Meet the people of the country, open your eyes and ears and all your senses, that is the only way to experience a place and its culture. You can’t really hide behind a camera and say you travelled anywhere. Be ready to learn.