It’s one of the strangest events in nature.
During the dry season, the Mekong River flows south to the South China Sea. But at the end of October, the Mekong collects melted water from the Himalayas as well as heavy monsoon rains from five countries and swells massively. The extra volume actually forces the Mekong to reverse its course and flow upstream!
Near Siem Reap, the Tonlé Sap Lake absorbs the extra water, growing from approximately one meter deep with an area of 2700-square kilometers (1677-square miles) to nine meters deep and 16,000-square kilometers (9941 square miles)!
As you might imagine, this event drastically changes the landscape of the surrounding communities. Villages – homes, schools, stores – are built on stilts to accommodate the floodwaters. Some homes appear to be equipped to actually float. Why would people live under these conditions? Fish… and lots of them. In fact, the Tonlé Sap is one of the world’s largest freshwater fisheries. For many poor Cambodians, fish and fish paste are the only proteins in their diet.
Today we took a longboat to the “floating village” of Kampong Phluk and the Flooded Forest. It’s the beginning of the wet season, so the waters have not yet risen. Even so, everything is done by boat.
From Nathan: The floating village was not really floating, because the houses were on stilts. The houses were very high up to be protected from the high waters. My favorite part of the boat ride was when I got to drive. I was reluctant at first, but then I wanted to keep driving. Unfortunately, on the way back, Dad broke the boat, but the driver fixed it.
Technically, the string controlling the steering snapped. I don’t think that Neerav was to blame; he was simply driving when it happened. No worries. We made it back safely.
Boarding our longboat to Kampong Phluk
Headed down the Roulos River to Kompong Phulek
Aidan at the helm
The string controls the throttle.
It takes some coaxing, but Nathan gets behind the steering wheel. Once he started piloting, he didn’t want to stop.
Kickin’ back on the longboat
Nathan passes another longboat.
Kids checking their net for fish
Given how high the houses are built, you can imagine how high the water gets in the later rainy season.
Homes in village of Kampong Phluk
The homeowners store fishing nets and firewood on the lower part of the house.
Walls made from palm leaves
Village of Kampong Phluk
All over Cambodia, we’ve seen very independent young children.
These children look to be collecting trash in a fishing net.
The bamboo boxes are fishing traps.
Everything here is done by boat.
Riding through Chong Kneas
Boys shampooing their hair
Though this home looks like it should be abandoned, it’s fully inhabited.
This is the Flooded Forest. In the dry season, the trees sit on land not in the water.
Villagers from Kampong Phluk awaiting tourists
We transfer to a small canoe and row through the Flooded Forest.
Shellie, Aidan, Nathan, and Neerav in the Flooded Forest
Agrala is 12 years old. She and her dad are rowing our boat.
Aidan, Nathan, and Neerav enjoying the shade of the Flooded Forest
Agrala’s father rowing in the front
Canopy of the Flooded Forest
The route is marked.
Shellie, Aidan, and Nathan in the canoe
Neerav takes a turn with the paddle.
To the right, you see a new pathway to Tonle Sap lake being built.
Back to the shade of the Flooded Forest
Seems like some place that crocodiles should live!
Goodbye to Agrala’s father
We reach Tonle Sap Lake.
Tonle Sap Lake is 6200 square miles during the rainy season. It’s only 1860 square miles during the dry season
Neerav and Shellie on Tonle Sap Lake
Neerav and Shellie on Tonle Sap Lake
I’ve never seen corn growing like this!
Kids being kids
Guest house and restaurant for the adventure traveler
Believe me, it’s hot. These kids are cooling down in the murky waters of the Roulos River.
The chicken coop is below the house.
More kids taking a dip
Brother paddling the family boat
This house is set up to actually float.
Local high school and fisheries office
Shellie at the wheel
Neerav takes a turn at the helm.
The string that controls the steering snaps. Oops. Our driver makes a temporary repair.