The old colonial town of KOMPONG CHHNANG, 83km north of Phnom Penh on National Route 5, is a quiet place to stop over for a day or to take a weekend break from Phnom Penh. Elsewhere in Cambodia you’ll often see ox carts laden with the chhnang (terracotta pots) produced here – a slow and smooth method of transport that reduces the risk of damage to the fragile cargo (though increasingly ancient motorbike remorques are used). Several villages where the pottery is made can be visited nearby. Relaxing atmosphere apart, the chief attraction here is a trip to the floating villages on the Tonle Sap, where you’ll get an authentic flavour of life on the water.Read More
Kompong Chhnang is the principal fishing port for Phnom Penh, and throughout the year supplies of fresh fish are packed with ice and loaded daily onto a fleet of trucks to drip their way towards the city. The fishing families, primarily ethnic Vietnamese, live on the river in floating villages, their houses built on pontoons which bob on the waters of the Tonle Sap. The villages are served by floating markets and coffee shops, and though facilities can be basic (their water, for example, comes from the river itself), most homes have TV and many have small floating gardens, while pens between the pontoons house farmed fish.
If you want to get out on the river and around the floating villages, boats can be hired from the riverfront near the boat dock (around 20,000 riel per hour for a small boat). Taking to the water offers an interesting insight into the daily life of these unusual communities and is a more relaxing experience than visiting the commercialized floating villages on the Tonle Sap at Siem Reap.
The ethnic Vietnamese
The ethnic Vietnamese
The first Vietnamese settlers in Cambodia were rice farmers, many of whose ancestors migrated across disputed borders as long ago as the late seventeenth century; over generations they moved north along the Mekong and today mostly farm in the southeast provinces. The educated, predominantly Christian Vietnamese population of Phnom Penh has its origins in the civil servants brought over during Vietnamese rule and the French protectorate. Indeed, records of the time suggest Phnom Penh was more Vietnamese than Khmer. These days the majority of Cambodia’s commercial fishing is accounted for by impoverished ethnic Vietnamese fishing families; predominantly Buddhist, they live in floating villages on the Tonle Sap and Mekong River, moving around with the annual inundation. Government estimates put the number of ethnic Vietnamese living in Cambodia at around 100,000, but given the difficulty of monitoring the large number who live in floating villages, the true figure is thought to be much higher.
Historically, Cambodians have long entertained feelings of hostility towards the Vietnamese, who are all too often referred to using the derogatory Khmer term, Yuan. The roots of this resentment go back to the Vietnamese annexation of the Mekong delta in the seventeenth century. Tensions were exacerbated during the brief period of Vietnamese rule over the whole country, during which time they tried to impose their language, names and mores on the Khmer. The situation was further aggravated during the French protectorate, when Vietnamese clerks were installed in Cambodia’s administration, and matters were not helped when the French redrew the Cambodia–Vietnam border in favour of the Vietnamese after World War II.
Although you’re unlikely to witness any racism against the Vietnamese today, it’s as well to note that no Cambodian would be seen dead in the pointed hats worn by Vietnamese rice farmers, and that no provincial Cambodian woman would dream of wearing trousers, for fear of being mistaken for a Vietnamese. The country’s current leader, Hun Sen, is often accused by his opponents of being a “Vietnamese puppet”, while Vietnamese town-dwellers and rice farmers are accused of taking Cambodian jobs.