Tonle Sap is Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake, providing livelihoods for over 10% of Cambodia’s population. Its water level varies considerably and the inhabitants of six of the seven villages at Chong Kneas live in houseboats that need to be moved with the changing levels. As with other fishing communities in the flooded area of the Tonle Sap, the way of life for the 5,000 or so inhabitants is strongly tied to the seasonal rise and fall of water. In the dry season, the floating villages anchor in a small inlet at the edge of the lake, where there is ready access to fishing grounds and some protection from storms and waves.
Chong Kneas is the floating village at the edge of the lake closest and most accessible to Siem Reap. If you want a relatively quick and easy look at the Tonle Sap, boat tours of Chong Khneas are available, departing from the Chong Khneas boat docks all day long. The boatman will probably point out the differing Khmer and Vietnamese floating households and the floating markets, clinics, schools and other boatloads of tourists.
Chong Khneas, while interesting, is over-touristed and is not as picturesque and ‘unspoiled’ as floating villages further from Siem Reap. The boat trip usually includes two stops: one at a touristy floating ‘fish and bird exhibition’ with a souvenir and snack shop, and the other at the very highly recommended Gecko Environment Centre, which offers displays and information introducing the ecology and biodiversity of the lake area.
For the residents of the floating villages of Chong Kneas, life on the water is not a cultural tradition that people cherish and wish to preserve. When the villagers were consulted about their living conditions, they said that they would prefer to live on the land and have access to clean water and sanitation as well as have their children go to proper schools instead of the poorly maintained floating school.