EXPLORING KUMPONG LOUNG FLOATING VILLAGE ON TONLE SAP
To a bewildered 20-year-old French student and intern, Cambodia seemed fascinating to me, in every sense. It had been only two days since I stepped into Cambodia and I was already off with my friend Emily heading to the Kompong Loung Floating Village – yes, it is exactly what it reads like – a village that floats on water.
You can imagine my enthusiasm then, to see how people inhabited a piece of land that was hovering over the water. We embarked on this adventure, armed with earnest curiosity and eagerness. It goes without saying that the most popular mode of livelihood for people at the Floating Village of Kompong Loung is fishing.
We travelled by bus from Phnom Penh to Krakor, it normally takes 2-3 hours. From here, we were tasked with the find a tuk-tuk to take us to the project. If you have never been to Cambodia, tuk-tuks are these intriguing three-wheel vehicles that travel through narrow nooks and crannies. All across the 30-minute tuk-tuk ride, I kept wondering if this plan was just the crazy for me – I have never been to Cambodia before, only been in the country for 3 days, do know anyone here …. until I saw a sight that I will never forget.
We reached the floating village. From schools to temples, offices, and grocery stores – this place has every single facility that a regular human settlement would have. Only, everything is on the water; floating and it was floating on the large Tonlė Sap Lake. At a distance, I heard a school bell go. The quietude and serenity of the floating village allow you to hear the tiniest of sounds. As I walked towards the school, a smattering of children ran out, all geared up to end a school day and go home. The sight of their innocent happiness melted my heart and I immediately went to interact with them. After the initial hesitation, the kids got friendly with me. They’re not used to seeing many foreign tourists in their village. Within minutes, I was playing food ball with some of the boys, being a big kid again.
We continue to explore the village on foot. At one point I stopped to buy a ripe, fresh coconut from an old lady. She started to cut it for me. At her age, it was amazed that she was strong enough to be able to slice this giant, juicy coconut open. Not just that, I also realized that this woman probably had very little compared to most people I knew. And yet, she was happier than all of them put together. I started to wonder if the definition of happiness in Cambodia is very different from I knew back home in France. With broken English, she explained to me about village life and her family who has lived here for a very long time.
After this eventful and eye-opening day came to rest, we walked towards our homestay at Kumpong Loung. Our host rowed us across the length of the Tonlé Sap Lake in his boat. The cool waters around us sent a beautifully rejuvenating ripple down our minds, as we quietly sailed past homes and people of the floating village.
On reaching his house, we were warmly welcomed by his wife and two amazing kids. And behind their smiling faces was a charmingly traditional Khmer house that I couldn’t wait to go into. We stepped in and immediately felt at home. By the time Emily and I washed up after our day’s tiring journey, we were famished but at ease in the family’s wonderful hospitality. Soon plates of hot food were brought out, as if on cue, by our lovely hosts.
On Emily’s plate, was the day’s freshest catch, a big fish fillet, fried and seasoned to firm and delicious perfection. For me, a bowl of fried rice, peppered with tasty herbs and veggies. It was one of my most satiating meal memories ever, and to this day, I salivate thinking of it. It is incredible, how something as humble as a bowl of rice and a warm smile can become etched in your mind forever.
As is the case with most Cambodians, a leisurely conversation and then a shower follow the evening meal – yes, people here shower all the time! Maybe it is the tropical weather, but a shower definitely puts you in the right mood to sleep. Taking a shower here in Kumpong Loung is complicated but an m experience nevertheless. You’re supposed to bathe with a bucket and a tumbler. Post this adventurous little shower; we were taken to a humble but cool room to sleep. As Emily and I settled into our beds, the gentle humming of a mosquito surrounded me. I snuggled in to get some nighttime reading done and soon dozed off into a deep sleep.
At dawn the next day, I woke up to the soft rays of the morning sun, shining at us through the windows of this beautiful house. There was something about this house, that made us feel restful and at peace. After a refreshing shower, we went down to find two steaming bowls of porridge, kept ready for us by our host’s wife. We left the home and journeyed back to Phnom Penh by boat, breathing in as much beauty as we could, of the majestic waters of Tonlé Sap – a thriving body that held upon its fragile shoulders – the livelihoods of hundreds of villagers.
It was time to go back home. Our bus to Phnom Penh was to board from this point on. As I embarked on my return, I felt a strange pang of pain. The floating village of Kumpong Loung on the Tonle Sap Lake will forever be etched on my memories. It taught me a lot of lessons, but most importantly, it taught me the power of contentedness. That is a lesson, I will always cherish.