Little Village on Big Stilts

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Due to flooding, the floating village outside Siem Reap was inaccessible. This ended up being a stroke of luck, since the less toured village of Kampong Phluk was the recommended alternative. Kampong Phluk is a village on stilts over a lake. In the throws of wet season, it pretty much looks like it’s floating. The village is dependent on fishing and shrimp farming. The occasional boat hired by tourists appears to be more of a fascination than an economical necessity.

Kampong Phluk is about one hour outside on Siem Reap, in the direction of Phnom Penh. Our tuk tuk driver turned off the little two lane highway onto a long dirt road. Half flooded and covered in large spacious potholes, the ride was bumpy and loud. Small wooden stands lined the road, presenting produce that each family had for sale or trade: bananas, longans, water spinach, and in one case pig heads.

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We finally stopped in a small parking lot where we hired a boat for the afternoon. It was our luck that our English speaking tuk tuk driver wished to go with us, since he was happy to act as a guide. As we set off towards Kampong Phluk on our long and very narrow wooden boat, he explained to us that the area we were navigating over was an actual road during dry season. Looking across the horizon, one could almost make out the roadway by considering the layout of the foliage. This time of year however, there were local fishermen harvesting the waters and small schools of tiny fish brushing the water’s surface. We looked out from our little boat, now well out in the middle of the waterway, imagining how life must be in a place that changes so dramatically from season to season.

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It took about 45 minutes to reach the little village on stilts. The buildings were reminiscent of tree houses, many with simplified fish farms for front yards. Our boat slowed to move through some very narrow alleyways. We saw chicken coups built over piles of buoyant sticks, vegetable gardens sprawled across back porches, and kids jumping from ladders into the water below. Small boats selling vegetables and eggs drifted by- moving from house to house. Cats sat at kitchen windows. A grandmother whipped a twig in the direction of a toddler getting too close to edge of the porch… It seemed like any small town in SE Asia, but with a level of creative inventiveness necessary when living on water.

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We stopped for a late lunch at a restaurant with an enormous menu. After sitting down it became clear that they were out of everything but two items- which seemed realistic for being in such a remote location. They had shrimp and some kind of fresh water fish, with rice. Dave gazed longingly at the chicken wandering over a stack of logs next door.

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We ate as the sun started setting. The sky and water lit up in orange, pink and purple reflections that looked more like watercolor than reality. Mangrove trees rustled in the wind as we sat watching the show. Neighboring houses started to light up their grills for dinner. The air took on a festive, mesquite scent that for a brief minute felt like home.

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