The Boat People of Cambodia

Saturday, 24 August 2019

The Tonl Sap Lake near Siem Reap in Cambodia has communities virtually living on the water body with fully functional water streets, floating schools, shops and clinics

The floating villages on Tonlé Sap Lake near Siem Reap are an attraction for international tourists who come to visit the Angkor Temple complex. This lake is a unique water body which changes its size several times a year. In the rainy season, from June to September, the lake increases its size with water from the Mekong River. In the dry season, from November to May, the lake shrinks. 

The Tonl Sap Lake near Siem Reap in Cambodia has communities virtually living on the water body with fully functional water streets, floating schools, shops and clinics

The floating villages on Tonlé Sap Lake near Siem Reap are an attraction for international tourists who come to visit the Angkor Temple complex. This lake is a unique water body which changes its size several times a year. In the rainy season, from June to September, the lake increases its size with water from the Mekong River. In the dry season, from November to May, the lake shrinks. 

The lake also works as a natural floodwater reservoir for the Mekong water system by regulating the water downstream from Phnom Penh during the wet season. Tonlé Sap Lake’s size varies from 16,000 sq km in the wet season to 3,000 sq km during the dry months. This way, the lake balances the water of the Mekong River, by increasing the size and collecting extra water in the wet season and in the dry season when the water reduces in the Mekong River then the water flows back into the river and to the Mekong Delta. 

The lake is bustling with life, including communities which virtually live on the water body in boats. Right from their childhood, instead of walking or using any other vehicle, they commute in boats. There are over 150 villages along the lake with people living in house boats, shopping in boats and even attending schools that are built in boats. 

The communities living in these villages make a living from what the lake provides — mainly fishing or engaging in shrimp and crocodile farming or selling dry fish or making boats etc. Fishing is the main source of income for 60,000 people (approximately) living on the water in these floating villages. The income is steady but life is not easy on the water. 

They also bathe, wash clothes and clean their homes from the lake’s water. These floating communities are fully functional with water streets, floating schools, floating shops for buying groceries and other items, floating clinics and hospitals, and a generator for electricity.