Cambodian Floating Village

The Tonlé Sap of Cambodia is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and plays an indispensable role in the life of the country. Each year the lake dramatically expands and contracts with the seasons. During November to May, Cambodia’s dry season, flows from the lake drain south along the Tonlé Sap River and into the Mekong River at Phnom Penh and the lake dramatically shrinks. During rainy season, beginning in June, heavy rains fill the floodplain and the lake expands again. Aside from the seasonal expansion and contraction the lake is unusual because in October, due to monsoonal rains and Himalayan snowmelt reaching the Mekong River, the Tonlé Sap River actually reverses course and fills the Tonlé Sap Lake even more; to almost five-times its dry season size.

Mechrey Floating Village Cambodia

Mechrey Floating Village Cambodia

Needless to say, living along the ever moving shore presents many challenges to those hearty enough to endure the dramatic seasonal changes.  The solution for some has been to build their houses on stilts, some as much as 20 feet tall, and wait for the water to return. For other the solution has been to make their entire village float on the water and move with the seasons, like waterborne Bedouins.

Transportation in the Village of Mechrey

Transportation in the Village of Mechrey

Visiting the floating village of Mechray on the northern shore of the lake near Siem Reap is truly an incredible experience. Residents of Mechray have adapted to life on the Tonlé Sap by moving all of the necessities of life onto lake. Houses, stores, schools and restaurants have all been moved onto floats. Even pigs, chickens and other livestock are taken along and raised in floating pens. As the lake recedes everything thing moves toward the new shores. One exception is the village pagoda which is an island surrounded by water during the rainy season and left high and dry, over two kilometers away, during the dry.

Children Play at Mechrey Floating Village

Children Play at Mechrey Floating Village

It seems improbable that as modernity comes to Cambodia that these villages will continue to exist. These are fishing villages and as commercial fishing, which is now technically banned, on the Tonlé Sap expands it will become more and more difficult for the inhabitants to use their traditional methods to compete. As population grows near the lake, which now serves as everything from – swimming hole, to shower, to sewage system, – conditions on the lake will undoubtedly deteriorate and this ancient way of life may become untenable. I feel very fortunate to be able to visit these amazing places before they are permanently lost to history.

A Typical Home in Mechrey Floating Village

A Typical Home in Mechrey Floating Village

Water is Everything in Mechrey Floating Village

Water is Everything in Mechrey Floating Village

The Pagoda Sits High and Dry at Mechrey Floating Village

The Pagoda Sit High and Dry at Mechrey Floating Village

Young Monks at the Pagoda at Mechrey Floating Village

Young Monks at the Pagoda at Mechrey Floating Village

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Also published on Medium.

Author: Jonathan Look

In 2011 Jonathan Look decided to change his life and pursue adventures instead of comfort and possessions. His goal is to travel the world solo; one country at a time, one year at a time. To accomplish this he got rid of most of his possessions, packed up what little he saw as necessities and headed out. His goal is to spend ten years discovering new places, meeting new people and taking the time to learn about them, their values and their place on this tiny planet. He embraces the philosophy that says a person is the sum of their experiences and rejects the fraud of modern consumerism that makes people into slaves of their consumption. He doesn't intend to be modern day ascetic, just more mindful of his place in the world and to make decisions according to that new standard.

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