Cambodia // The temples of Angkor and Siem Reap //

Floating villages near Siem Riep

A visit to the floating villages near Siem Reap is not the authentic ethnic experience that guides in town would have you believe; it is in fact a very organized and extremely voyeuristic affair, with all Siem Reap tour agents offering some sort of trip to the villages and dozens of boats ferrying visitors along the river. Just beyond Phnom Krom, at Chong Khneas, a new (privately run) toll station ($2) has set up business and you can’t even get to the GECKO exhibition centre (Greater Environment Chong Khneas Office; daily 8.30am–5pm), an NGO whose main role is to improve the environmental awareness of the local fishing population, without paying the toll. Boats seating about a dozen people run from the toll booth every 15 to 30 minutes with a fixed price of $20 per person for a 90 minute trip. Naturally enough, villages visited by the boats have capitalized on the tourism – there’s even a café now where many of the boats put in – so if you want to get out to the more genuine villages, you need to go further afield; consider going down to Kompong Phluk (about 40km from Siem Reap, south of Roluos Group) or to Kompong Khleang (about 80km southeast). Indeed, if you are travelling on through Cambodia, it’s worth visiting the floating villages that are further off the beaten track. In the rainy season, when the lake floods up to the foot of Phnom Krom, you can get a feel of the floating villages just by walking along the causeway; here the houses are either on enormously tall stilts or are lashed to pontoons that rise with the flood waters.