The capital city of Cambodia is Phnom Penh is bustling with people with horrendous traffic like any other major city in the world. What sets this particular city apart from others is the river or rivers that separate it. As the Tonle Sap River parallels most of the city while the
Mighty Mekong River borders the southern tip. I had the chance to tour a portion of the opposite side of the Tonle from the northern end of town. Crossing the Tonle Sap River is quick and easy by small outboard boat. In the middle of the lake is a floating fishing village where nets are cast throughout the day. Making it to the other side,
you’re transformed into what seems like a different world. From the opposite shore of the Tonle Sap, you can see Phnom Penh city, but life is quite different here. Life seems simpler. Slower with an old world charm about it.
Most who visit Phnom Penh, don’t venture to this side of the river and vise-versa. The villagers make the quick crossing only when needed. They’re pretty self-sufficient as they farm for themselves and of course are skilled
fishermen. They fish not with poles, but a time-tested netting systems that are long and narrow with individual chamber to trap and prevent the fish from escape. It amazes me as I watch a family check their nets to collect their bootie for the day. The nets are placed in the middle part of a small inlet to the Tonle Sap that requires them to row
a small boat for inspection. Straddling the boat with their feet on each of the side rails, their balance is near perfect – even with the rockiness of the river itself. Their catch since early morning yielded at least 5 different types of fish and about 20 in total – definitely good enough for dinner for the night. From what I understand, what they grow and catch isn’t for sale, but for their own consumption – this lifestyle is a far cry from city life not
but 5 or 10 minutes back across the Tonle Sap.
The village itself is largely along the river bank consisting of about 100 families. When I arrived, school was just letting out for the day (primary through middle school) – this is where the run began. They were inquisitive about foreigners coming to visit them. There were no one hawking cheap goods to you as you make your way down the main path
of the village. The only little stores that are selling goods are for the villagers and general sale of the community – a welcomed break from the relentless hawkers on the other side of the river. Everybody seems to know everybody, so when I strolled down the path, most paused from their daily chores and just acknowledged your presence with a friend nod, smile or a simple “chomreabsuor” or ‘hello’ in Khmer. There’s even a fairly large Buddhist temple near the school at the edge of the village. Monks roam free from hassle (except from me as I occasionally hunted for a photo op). Monks here, as opposed to those in China wear beautifully bright saffron colored robes instead of the drab
mustard colored robes you see throughout greater China.
Being that school was just letting out and kids being well … kids, their gathered and some followed us around before eventually making their way home after a long day of school. Beautiful faces all. Even better hosts in general and simply greeted you with a simple ‘hello’. Out behind the village away from the river lies several individually owned rice fields. As I walk in between rice
paddy sections, it’s hard to believe that during the rainy season (just about 4 -5 months away) will turn these fields into a mini lake. Even the home I visited, was a stilt house along the river bank had the main unit well above the flood line, but there was a lower unit used as a kitchen that’s completely under water for 4 months of the year – crazy to think of building a unit that’s unusable 1/4 of the year.
What a special time it was in a place not far from crazy city life, but world’s away where time seemed to stand still. It was also a bit disheartening that all these school children will most
likely end up working the fields or rivers as their parents do right now. I say this because of such bright eyes and inquisitive nature of all of the younger children in that most are pretty much pre-destined for local village life while having so much more opportunity not but 10 minutes boat ride away. I guess it’s largely a matter of either expectation or destiny.