Ecotour of the Floating Villages

Arriving at the river Bird watching We took a tour with Osmose of the Tonle Sap Lake floating villages. We were picked up by their van, taken to the river, took a powerboat a boat ride to their facility, and then saw the floating villages. Lunch was included, for $75. It would have been a lot less if we had come earlier in the year when there are more tourists and we could amortize some of the expense over more customers than just the four of us. Regardless, it was the better part of a day, very interesting, and certainly worth the money. Nothing really costs that much in Cambodia.

At top left is a picture of the boat (I think the one in the middle) which we took through the muddy river to the big lake. To get a better feel for the trip, click on the video below. Note particularly the fisherman in the water to the right of the boat as we go zooming by.

We didn't go on the bird watcher tour, but the birds evidently can't read the signs for the sanctuary boundaries. The Chinese pond herons were all over the place, quite an interesting two-toned bird. We also saw some black-headed ibis, Asian openbill, blue-tailed bee-eater, green-billed malkoha, oriental darter, great egret, Indian shag, cinnamon bittern, purple heron, black drongo, and common myna. Most of these birds we saw multiple times. I could identify all of them for at least an hour after our boat trip, but that was six months ago so don't ask me which one is in the picture.

Boarding the canoe arriving at alligator farm When we arrived at Osmose, we pretty quickly boarded three canoes, one for Laura and me, one for Beth and Kevin, and one for our guide. The picture at left shows Laura and me about to board our canoe. The paddlers were three young women: two about 16 and one 23. The older one was our paddler (in the turquoise top); she knew exactly where she was going and what she was doing, and led the expedition most of the way. I don't know how she was able to paddle our boat so well from the front; with our canoes, we do it from the back. Our first destination was an alligator farm on the bank of the lake, shown at right.

Alligator farm Another viewpoint When you go up the ladder, you pretty quickly get the view at left. The more adventuresome visitors walked over to the other side of the rickety wooden platform to scope out a little more of the operation. Kevin was one, just visible in the trees, but the other was our canoe paddler. The 16-year old girls were hanging around in the boats, waiting for us go come back and probably discussing boys or their nails (or whatever it is 16-year-old girls discuss in the floating villages) but their elder compatriot seemed to be contemplating getting into the alligator farming business at some point in the future. I'm not sure what her prospects are (the ecotourism helps somewhat) but this demonstrates that not all societies offer equal opportunity. She'd probably become a top college student in the US and her future would be pretty much unlimited.

Aquaculture filming fish farm Our second destination was a fish farm, shown at left. The young girl fed the fish while we were there as part of the tour. To see a little bit of the canoe trip and the fish feeding, click on the video below. At right is a picture of our canoe pulled up for the show, right when Laura was shooting part of the video.

Kids out for a paddle Kids playing with a box What else do you see when paddling through the floating villages? Well, the kids are always interesting. Our over-protective society with the proverbial helicopter parents can be stifling, but in Cambodia things are quite different. At left we see a couple of kids paddling their boat. They've got a motor but probably aren't authorized to burn the gas, if they even have any gas. I was a little amazed at our 16-year old paddlers paddling the boat from the front, but after seeing these kids, I realized that those 16-year-olds probably have 10 years of experience! It's a good thing the kids have their certified life vests on, in case anything unfortunate happened. Wait, I'm not seeing those. But at least they have adult supervision keeping a close eye on them. No adults? Well, at least if they fall in they're probably good swimmers and there's nothing in the water that could be harmful to them. Wait, the lake is an integral part of the floating village sewage system? Those kids must be an anomaly, a case of bad parenting.

How about those kids at right? They look happy. Why wouldn't you be happy if you had a brand new car battery box to play with. I bet you can't have too many batteries in the floating villages, especially charged ones. They aren't in a dangerous boat, but safe at home. Wait a minute, in the floating villages, home is a boat, at least in the rainy season. And the spacing on those logs looks just a bit wide to me. At least they have their dog to protect them, and perhaps fish them out if they fall out a la Lassie. Wait, they don't vaccinate the dogs against rabies?!?

Kids fishing Snakehead lunch At left are some kids fishing with a net in the lake. It's a good thing they are wearing their hip boots to protect them from any microorganisms and parasites that might be in the lake! Click on the picture and you'll see them after they brought the net up, doubtless looking to see what they caught. The little girl has a can to store the catch. From the size of that I guess we know they're not trying to catch large game fish! We saw some adults doing much the same kind of fishing near Phnom Penh a few days before.

After we got back to the Osmose building we had a nice authentic lunch of snakehead with rice and various Cambodian fruits and vegetables (picture at right). Drinks were our choice of bottled water, Coca Cola, or Angkor beer. The snakehead is considered an invasive fish over here, but the best way to combat it might be to eat it. It's a white fish, pretty good, but with a lot of bones. Maybe some sort of bone-removal technology could be brought to bear in the US!

Weaving room Collecting water hyacinth Our last event was a demonstration by the craftspeople of weaving mats using the invasive water hyacinth which grows everywhere. They offered to teach us to weave a mat, and some of us took them up on it, but I declined to attempt a circular mat. It's a good thing I declined, because as I watched the woman weave it, I realized that she added additional spokes at random times as the diameter increased. It seemed far harder than the rectangular ones. At right is the operation to collect the water hyacinth: fun for the whole family! But a video is worth 1000 pictures, and to see a couple of minutes of the weavers weaving, click on the two-minute video below.

Heading back Disembarking Well, that was the last event of our brief ecotour of about six hours on the Tonle Sap lake visiting the floating villages. At left, we're heading back and at right Kevin watches as Beth disembarks. It's a very different way of life and a hard life, living on the lake. Back home in Boston, they were digging out from the blizzard of 2013, the last thing on our minds in the heat of Southeast Asia.

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Page last updated December 22, 2013
Related links: Traveling to Asia / Jet Lag - Prince Sihanouk - The Khmer Rouge Era - Ecotour of the Floating Villages - Water for Cambodia - Angkor Temples and Siem Reap