Wednesday, 31 January 2007

The Enchanted Forest of Kampong Phlouk

Seeing that my task here in Cambodia is to research how tourism can benefit more Cambodians and what can be done to keep tourists a bit longer than two nights and three days in Siem Reap - and actually have them discover different parts of the country, I investigated some of the nearby options once you get sick of temples...

A 20 minute drive from Siem Reap, the floating village of Chong Kneas on the Tonlé Sap (South-East Asia's biggest lake) is definitely an option. The village has everything from floating stores, to a floating gas station and a floating school - including two gymnasiums for kids to play soccer or basketball.

And for those who need their little prayer every day, there's even a floating church. It's unusual, but actually very interesting and wonderful for sunset. Unfortunately, it's not really off the beaten track. Quite the contrary, nowadays it seems to be a "must see" on every Angkor tour, drawing between 2000 and 3000 tourists every single day... bumper to bumper boat...

The enchanted forest of Kampong Phlouk is more difficult to reach, but much more rewarding. After a two hour rocky boat trip on the Tonlé Sap, we get a first glimpse of the tiny fishing village. The village is entirely build on stilts - about 6 to 7 meters high - as the Tonlé Sap can rise up to 10 meters during the wet season.

Right now, it's the dry season - so the village looks a bit surreal. The wooden houses, perched up high, are empty these days, as all the action of day to day living such as cooking and socializing happens underneath the houses - or along the dusty main road. From November to April the fishing season is slower. Over this time villagers repair the fishing boats or work on their nets.

In the dry season, raising crocodiles in cages along the shore is a very lucrative business (that only rich families can afford). A nice big crocodile can be sold for almost $2,000. Drying shrimps in the middle of the village road is also an option, albeit not as financially rewarding...

On the village's one and only main road playing volleyball is very popular.

And then there's also the Ecotourism project that was set up in Kampong Phluk by UNDP and other NGOS a few months ago. But after having had lunch there, I spoke to the villagers and soon realised that the so-called "community based tourism project" does not really benefit the wider community, as the team-leader was claiming in an interview just minutes before. It seems only a few women, from selected families, have so far been asked to cook onboard the floating tourist restaurant. But maybe this will change in the future? It maybe too soon to judge as the project only started three months ago.

My day ended with a magnificent paddle tour through the flooded forest of Kampong Phlouk. A local fisherman took me on his traditional wooden (and very shaky) boat. Why do the people here call it the "enchanted forest"? If you ever come to Kampong Phlouk... you will find out why!


Guy 1 February 2007 at 03:34  

Great photos of the floating fishing village Barbara! Do you know how local villages such as the one you visited are governed? Do they elect village leaders? Do villagers have a say in how development money is spent?

Good stuff on the video links too!

Anonymous 13 February 2010 at 13:38  

Da kann ich nur zustimmen..

Shallyn Murray 2 October 2011 at 20:37  

Do you have any more photos of the eco-tourism centre in Kompong Phluk? I would be very interested to see them.


Barbara 2 October 2011 at 21:48  

No, unfortunately I don't have any more photos... Sorry. Why are you asking?

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