Kompong Khleang was definitely the highlight of my visit to Cambodia. Not to say that the other places were uninteresting… Some were stunning, but this one have an environment which needs to be experienced to be understood.
It is a village on Tonle Sap lake, one and a half hour ride from Siem Reap. I heard about it from Travelfish and was intrigued with its high ranking. As they had never let me down in the past, I trusted the review and, while staying in Siem Reap and visiting Angkor, took the evenings to search for a tour operator to take me there. The goal was to stay at the village, if possible for a few days, and not only do a hit-and-run daily trip.
I went to many travel agencies around the city for maybe three evenings and only got “no” for an answer, sometimes with the alternative of doing a daily trip to Kompong Phluk. The reviews, for this one, were much worse and it seemed too touristic. At last, I asked on the hotel I was staying, (Garden Village its name ), and Bingo, got a positive answer.
Unfortunately I cannot remember the price, but the program was: car trip in the morning, staying with a local family in a traditional house for one night, with food included, sunrise boat trip to the lake, breakfast and return to Siem Reap late morning. This way, it was possible to walk the village for a whole afternoon and sunset, and then have the sunrise view.
The hospitality was heart-touching, the food, simple but delicious, and the funniest part is they didn’t speak a word of any Western language. So, each time a doubt occured (fortunately, they were not so many) they phoned the agent who translated their question or ours.
The images sort of speak for themselves, but there were a few moments not captured on camera, but worth to mention.
One is staying by at the balcony, at night, after dinner, among a dense cloud of insects, watching small boats coming and going, to bring their catch (mostly, net bags of cockles) to be weighted and despatched to the villages. Those waters were alive in so many ways. If wouldn’t be a surprise if a sort of Loch Ness monster would take its head out to say hello.
Other was the sound of local music from some party going on, not so far. I accidentally run into it next morning and was almost forced (in a friendly way) to try a shot of a local spirit, which, I suppose, had something more than just alcohol – it got me mildly high for most of the day.
Throughout the previous afternoon, there were the sincere smiles of children; the kindness of women serving a sort of smashed, fried, bananas and what I believed to be grilled, seasoned, snakes with their own eggs; the water world itself, plain, green, purple or golden, depending on the hour.
Sometimes it seemed another planet, like Star Wars of something.
To cut the long story short, if was one of the few places I have been, that was not westernised or made “tourist friendly”. It breathed authenticity and I sincerely hope it stays that way, though it probably won’t.
Nonetheless, if you want to have a feel of the Cambodian life, try it while you can!