The people of Tonlé Sap Lake


After spending 5 days in Siem Reap some friends and i decided to go out to the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. We took a friendly tuk-tuk out to the lake and tried to commission a boat for the day. We had been told that the normal price was $45 a day. When we showed up we found out that the local tourism police were running a racket. They were insisting that we pay anywhere between $60 to $100 a day. We walked away and found a nice fisherman who was working on his own and not with the police. Once the Tout saw us doing that he immediately told one of the his fellow tourist officers to come interfere. The tourist officer told us that we have to take one of the “official boats” and that we could not take a boat with the fisherman. Having been in Cambodia many times i never believe what these “official people” say. Most of the time it is a scam. So i asked him to please see his ID so that i know that he was an official tourist officer. Of course he did not have one. Figures.

The so called tourist officer did manage to stop our fisherman from taking us unless we agreed to pay him $25. So we did and then jumped in a boat and tried to enjoy our little trip out to see the people that live on this lake.

The majority of the people living in the lake live are surprisingly Vietnamese. Our friendly fisherman told us that the majority of them stayed after the the war with the Khmer Rouge and have never returned to Vietnam. They even had a floating school that taught only in Vietnamese. My friend Francoise told me that at the time of the fighting between the Khmer Rouge and Vietnam many of the Vietnamese Soldiers defected from the military because there was too much fighting at the time. Vietnam had just finished the war with America and now had two conflicts, one with the Khmer Rouge and another with the Chinese. So some of them were tired of all the fighting and decided to stay and live in Cambodia.


The fisherman took us to a remote village about 2 hours away by boat. This village was special due to the it being next to a “floating forest.” Many of the people living near or in the floating forest rely on it to provide them the wood, food and money from tourism. The children in Cambodia make you fall in love with the country. Lots of happy smiling faces. Even when they are asking you for some money they do so half hardheartedly and just want to talk with you and have fun.


We later took a smaller boat through the floating village and it was a serene and beautiful place full of bent trees sprouting up from the depths of the lake letting in little rays of sunlight. I really loved this place and was happy we made the trip.