Kompong Phluk, Cambodia: Village On and In the Lake

Kompong Phluk, Cambodia: Village On and In the Lake

Michael CarterBy Michael Carter

Remember your school days when part of the year you would walk to school and climb a towering set of stairs to the entrance, and the remainder of the year would row there in a boat right up to the doorstep? No? Then perhaps you didn’t grow up in Kompong Phluk, Cambodia.

Where is Kompong Phluk, Cambodia?

Many often call Siem Reap “Temple Town” because of its proximity to Angkor Wat. Kompong Phluk, makes for an interesting day trip from Siem Reap. It lies just 16 km away from Temple Town, although the meandering road makes the trip closer to 31 km. It is actually a collection of three floating villages by the Tonlé Sap Lake. The Tonlé Sap River fills and empties into the Tonlé Sap Lake, depending on the time of year. The Tonlé Sap is a UNESCO biosphere reserve, thanks to its unique plant species, fish, and animals, many of which are listed as endangered. Close to 4,000 people call Thnot Kambot, Dhei  Krahom, and Koh Kdol — the three villages of Kompong Phluk — their home. Severe flooding is not uncommon during the rainy season, but for the denizens of Kompong Phluk, Cambodia, it is an annual expectation.

A photo of a building in Kompong Phluk during the dry season

How Do the Locals Survive?

Kompong Phluk translates roughly as Harbour of the Tusks. The community sits high on stilts averaging six metres high. During the wet season months, from May to late October, the denizens rely on fishing. This includes river shrimp and the slightly larger river lobster — which is nothing like the ocean lobster I loved so much in Canada. With the change of the season in November, the water flow reverses and begins receding. Basic farming supplements the fish shortage. Villagers erect temporary shacks by the lake to accommodate the new (and temporary) agricultural activity.

With Siem Reap and the nearby Angkor temples attracting tourists, curious visitors are increasingly making trips to Kompong Phluk. This relatively new site made its way onto the tourist trail within the past couple of decades.

Kompong Phluk’s Flooded Forest

At about 6,000 hectares, locals refer to the largest mangrove forest in the area as the flooded forest. For a donation of around $5 US, local women will paddle you throughout the mangrove in their small boats. With this proving to be another source of income for the residents, the mangrove forest has a good chance of remaining intact, a blessing for both the village residents and people around the world.

A Helpful Donation or a Scam?

I think most travellers like to help add to the places they visit in some way. Despite that,they don’t want to feel they are being scammed. I think it is always one of the greatest dilemmas a traveller can face.

There is no shortage of children in Kompong Phluk. Like most Cambodian people, I find them to be very photogenic. They love slipping into your photographs. Unlike many of the street beggars I have encountered in larger cities, these kids attempt to use their smiles to entice you to purchase basic school supplies for them, such as notebooks and pencils. I curiously witnessed the process and it became rather apparent that these supplies had been bought and sold before. Meaning that they get you to buy the book and invite you to their classroom and then await the next generous group to come along.

An Educator’s View

It was a real dichotomy for me as I have worked in education for over two decades. Furthermore, I’ve lived in Cambodia since 2007, so I’m more familiar with mischievous Cambodian school children than the average tourist. I watched as two western women bought supplies and I accompanied them up the stilted stairway to a large classroom filled with happy, smiling faces. The kids seemed truly grateful and I questioned myself for doubting — perhaps even knowing — that their opportunistic mothers may have put them up to all of this.

A photo of the tourist and Kompong Phluk, Cambodia children

I suppose that if you go to Kompong Phluk, Cambodia someday and encounter this situation, you will have to allow your own feelings to guide you.

All about Michael

We first met Michael Carter back in January 2020 when he was interviewed by close friend and fellow Dreams Abroad contributor, Edmond Gagnon. Michael has since gone on to pen his very own articles for our site. These have seen him recount visiting some of his favourite places in Asia such as Vietnam’s Con Dao Islands as well as those on the other side of the world like Havana, Cuba. We can’t wait to see what more Michael has to share!

44 thoughts on “Kompong Phluk, Cambodia: Village On and In the Lake

  1. Cambodia seems like such ana mazing place. I have not been to that part of the world but you make it seem magical.

  2. I loved the floating villages…homes, schools, churches and even a billiard hall on Ton Le Sap Lake. And I believe it was on your recommendation that I went there, Michael.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing about this village. It sounds like such a unique place, I be it is wonderful to visit.

  4. I love reading about interesting places like this. It really looks like a back to basics kind of place – the way life used to be all over.

    1. Hello to Amber, Sarah & Heather. I appreciate your comments and you are all correctin seeing this as an interesting and unique place.

  5. What an amazing experience this is. I wish I can visit Cambodia someday and enjoy a tour through the flooded forest.

  6. I would love to visit Kompong Phluk one day. That entire area seems like an adventure to another world, between the flooded forest and immersing my family in the culture.

  7. That really looks interesting. I’m glad i read this and it’s very informative. I’m interested in Cambodia now, I’d love to visit Kompong Phluk too someday.

  8. I love traveling the world and seeing different sites and learning about the culture. Everyone has their own opinions but I think selling school supplies is just one of the ways they survive. Many people make a living off tourism. I would gladly purchase the supplies if I were lucky enough to travel there.

    1. I agree with you that it is better to lean on the side of generosity. Unfortunately, I am guilty of not always doing so. People must be creative and do what ever is necessary to survive sometimes.

  9. That is so cool you got to live there. That flooded forest looked so cool. I would love to float around through the mangroves. Although, I am pretty sure I would give them more than $5. As always great pictures of the area, makes me want to visit.

  10. That looks like such an interesting place to visit. I would love to go sometime. I love that village. It’s very beautiful.

  11. I will love to visit Cambodia and the way you described the joy on the children’s faces when someone helps them is simply magical. Having these luxury experiences just helps to keep the westerners grounded and understand that the world does not revolve around them.

  12. Cambodia looks like a beautiful place. I would love to see it for myself, and I would happily purchase supplies for the children.

  13. This place is similar like some place in Indonesia. And It’s really beautiful that you are working as a teacher there for helping people in small place (island). You are so kind. Bless you!

  14. That’s nice! Those places just looks like in the province here in the Philippines. You had great experience there.

  15. This looks like it would be such a great place to visit! I can’t wait until things start going back to normal and we can begin exploring our big, beautiful world again.

  16. I’ve only visited Cambodia for a few days and would love to have explored it more. That sounds like a great area to go to and hopefully someday I can go back to Cambodia again.

  17. Thanks to all who commented above with similar messages of being inspired and hopeful of visiting this region of Cambodia. Yes, it is not so different from other rural places in Southeast Asia (such as Philippines and Indonesia mentioned in comments above). The people are doing what they need to do to survive and they do seem genuinely happy.

  18. I would love to visit Cambodia some day. Angkor Wat is on my list and your photos remind me that there is so much more to see and do.

  19. Nnniiiccceeeee…it is so good to read and see places like these. What I don’t find really cool is, “A Helpful Donation or a Scam?” section where you talked about the children “duping” your heart into scamming you that way. It sets just anybody off.

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