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June 1, 2008

Jim Lee: Floating Villages in Cambodia

This is a guest post from Jim Lee, author of the paper Castles In The Sea: A Survey of Artificial Islands and Floating Utopias in our Misc Resources section.


I just got back from a trip to Cambodia last week. While I was there, I was able to visit the floating village on the Tonle Sap Lake, about 1/2 hour from Siem Riepe. It is a fairly large large, and supports two separate villages – one vietnamese and one cambodian. Combined population of around 5,000. Both villages would migrate around the lake during the course of the year, based on water levels and the availability of fish.

It was encouraging to see how easily people could adapt to life on the water. In addition to the floating houses, there was a temple, several schools, a library, and even a basketball court!

People there are largely self-sufficient. There was much aquaculture in floating fish pens (which was expected), but I was also surpised to see hogs and chickens, too. Crocodiles were raised for leather (no signage or discloures like "please don’t pet the crocodiles"- just a wide open hold filled with 20 or so crocs.) It was a relatively poor community by western standards, but not necessarily so when compared to surrounding agricultural communities.

Kids would get around from one house to another by padding small boats and washtubs. Overall, they seemed well-accustomed to life on the water, and all of them learned how to fish at an early age.

In the attached photos, you might catch a few T.V. antennas. Electronics are powered by batteries and generators. You would also see floating stacks of firewood for heating and cooking.

I have a good friend who spent a year living in the village while studying the wild crane population. She said that living on the lake made the evenings cool and sleeping on the water a comfortable. If people didn’t like their neighbors or "needed space", they’d just move their house somewhere else. Sometimes it was a little hard finding things, because the "buildings" kept moving. This would probably drive the postman crazy!

If you are looking for a place to do some research, this is one community that might be worth checking out. It is also fairly close to the temples of Angkor Wat (totally worth seeing!).

Feel free to post these photos on your site – I wish that I had more…


Thanks Jim! Check out Jim’s pictures, and others with the floatingvillage tag, on Flickr.