a quick note– villages can float!

Cambodia is home to the Tonle Sap, which is a large freshwater lake in the middle of the country. The Tonle Sap is really neat because it actually flows both ways, depending on the time of year. During the wet season, rainfall into the Mekong River increases to the point where the actually lake fills up. It increases in size from 2,500 to 13,000 square kilometers (at least I think, that is what I wrote on my final at least)! The Tonle Sap is also one of the world’s largest source of freshwater fish, and it provides 70-80% of Cambodia’s protein.

I know I might be boring some of the non-sciency folk, so I won’t stay on the topic for too long, but you should know this lake is no joke. In addition to providing habitat for millions of fish, the lake also provides homes for nearly 1/4 Cambodians. Many live on the floodplains near the lake and grow rice during the part of the year in which it is flooded, but some live actually on the waters of the lake in these crazy floating villages.

view of the lake from the roof of the restaurant we ate at!

boat buzzing by as we travelled to our homestay! (peep the water hyacinth)

I had the amazing privilege of seeing one of these floating villages, commonly called Prek Toal. Prek Toal is on the northwestern tip of the lake. During the wet season, the “streets” are very wide and the town is more spread out, but during the dry season, the city is much more tightly packed. This is because there is less water which brings the homes closer to one another. The lake is covered in an invasive plant known as water hyacinth, and the stuff gets stuck in boat motors and crowds out native plants. We made a pit stop at a community-based basket weaving project that turns the invasive plant into cool baskets, purses, and cups. After being briefly shown how the weaving works, I tried my hands at the sport. Turns out it is not my calling– the woman weaving immediately removed the pieces I weaved and redid them haha.

three hour birding session on the lake! lots of fun, lots of chaos! Check our me, staying hydrated as always


turning the invasive water hyacinth into a cool bowl!! resourceful amirite

During our time at the lake, I also had the privilege of spending the night in a homestay with an incredibly generous and kind Chinese-Khmer family. Two things about the homestay that I will never forget are the boats and the crocodiles. Raising crocodiles is a newfound livelihood on the lake. Many families (almost every family actually) has begun to raise and rear crocodiles for crocodile leather. The funny thing about crocodile rearing on the lake is that most families simply keep the crocodiles in small wooden boxes attached to their houses. Quite literally, there was only two walls of separation from me and the crocodiles when we were sleeping, which made falling asleep a little less inviting. Additionally, the boats that roam the lake lack mufflers. Our professors told us that they are four times louder than the legal limit, and after trying to sleep with them buzzing all night I would have to agree. Oh well, all in the name of adventure am I right?

In all honesty, I loved spending the night with local people. We interviewed them for a class assignment and learned a lot about the struggles of local livelihoods on the lake, especially with over-fishing and changes in water regimes from climate change. I’ll cut myself off again because I am sure I’m boring you all.

right before we got stuck in the mud!

In funnier news, the next day as we were leaving, we quite literally got stuck in the mud. The water level had dropped so much in the one night that we stayed at the lake that our boat got stuck in the banks on the way out. Seeing this as an opportunity to help (and cool off a little), we all hopped into the mud (waist deep) and pushed our boat into the deeper part of the channel, grinning and laughing even though the situation was actually quite grim.

Moments like that are some of my favorites. When things safely go wrong, opportunities for personal growth and reason for laughter tend to rise. Pushing a giant boat out of the sand is just one of many experiences this semester that have arisen from unintended circumstances, and I look forward to the next one.

2 thoughts on “a quick note– villages can float!

  1. Hello! Love reading about your adventure! Will be traveling with daughter age 9 in july to siem reap. What are your thoughts on mosquitos?

    • Thank you for your kind comments Amie! I appreciate that people have been actually reading the blog :-). As for mosquitoes, you will be traveling during the wet season, so there will be more mosquitoes than when I was in Cambodia in the dry season. I never had trouble with bites, especially because most accommodations (hotels, AirBnBs, etc) provide mosquito nets. I also know that there are no malaria mosquitoes found within Siem Reap, which is nice if that was a worry for you. I would bring some deet spray for the evenings, but again, I never found mosquitoes to be much of an issue for me.

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