Some critics say that the Chong Khneas floating village has been overtaken by tourists and vendors. While there is a strong presence of both, if you look beyond it all, you can find small moments of daily life that make the trip (only 10km from Siam Reap) worth it.
We arrived to Chong Khneas early in the morning, but the dock on the Tonlé Sap Lake was already bustling with movement; fisherman with their first catch, children selling trinkets and hungry tour guides waiting for the next batch of Westerners to arrive. Our tuk-tuk driver, Than, bid us farewell as he tended to his tuk-tuk with a feather duster.
Alby, Marco and I boarded a bright blue river boat with our new guide, a young Khmer man who spoke English better than most of my Italian students. Our first encounter: a traffic jam that rivaled Manhattan at rush hour. Reason for the congestion? A village house was on the move, taking up the entire waterway as it was towed upstream. Our guide told us that during the height of monsoon season the entire village migrates to the higher, drier inland areas.
Our guide had a knack for storytelling . I listened to the tragic tales of his brother’s death at sea, his arm-less father’s fishing accident, his blind mother, and his struggle to single-handedly fund the education of his seven brothers and sisters. I played my most sympathetic violin symphony for his woeful misfortune. I even shed a tear. Then he kindly requested that we give generous tips at the conclusion of our journey, at which point I realized I was being served. I peeked my head into the window of the colorful hut we were passing.
A floating school…in session. Lesson of the day: English! I tried to linger inconspicuously and spy on the class, but to no avail. The curious children were fixated on my camera. Realizing the disruptiveness of my large American head in the window, I snapped one final photos and floated on.