After the architecture and history of Angkor Wat, which we had seen the previous day, we made our way to Tonle Sap Lake, which is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia. Situated on the edge of this lake, and a short drive from Siem Reap, is the floating village of Chong Kneas. It is home to many ethnic Vietnamese and Cham communities.
These villages don’t stay in a fixed place, they move with the onset of the wet and dry seasons. People live in boat houses of varying sizes. Some of the houses have electricity, although most people use car batteries as a power source. Several houses had a floating pig pen or a floating garden attached to it. We came across a few floating schools, as well as a few floating churches. We learned from our guide that children on the lake must learn to swim before they can attend school. As part of the trip, we were taken to a crocodile farm and a fish farm.
Tonle Sap Lake.
A cluster of floating houses on Tonle Sap lake.
A young girl paddling in an aluminum basin.
While I found the crocodile farm and fish farm a bit too contrived and touristy, I did enjoy the overall experience of the lake excursion. I loved seeing this side of Cambodia, and the interesting ways in which people have adapted to this way of life. I saw kids below the age of 5 happily paddling their way about in aluminum basins. As we sat in our boats, children hopped from their boats onto ours with practiced ease in an attempt to sell us soft drinks. I would not say that a visit to Tonle Sap is a must, especially if you’re on a short trip. However if you have some time, it is an interesting experience, especially if you are someone who likes observing people as they go about their lives. Chong Kneas is only a short ride from Siem Reap, and is a nice half day trip if you need a break from the temples of Angkor.
After our boat ride on the lake, we made our way to Artisans d'Angkor. This crafts village was founded in 1998 and sponsored by the Cambodian Ministry of Education, the French Foreign Office and the EU with an objective of supporting and promoting Khmer art and culture. Selected youth from Cambodian villages attend this school for 7-8 months to learn about traditional art and crafts ranging from woodcarving, sandstone carving, screen printing, gilding, lacquering, and silk weaving. The village also has a small boutique which is an excellent place for souvenirs. The quality of the carvings I saw here was far superior to what I saw being sold in the Central Market in Phnom Penh.
A student practicing wood carving.
One of the craftsmen at Artisans d'Angkor carving a statue.
The next day we left for the capital, Phnom Penh, by road. More about our time in Phnom Penh coming soon.
(All images courtesy Shalini Pereira)