After taking in the cities, towns, countryside, and sheer scale of the lakes and rivers we traversed the next day, I find it’s true – there’s (yet) another world that exists on Cambodia’s lakes and rivers, and Erin and I got to see it all firsthand as we took a speedboat ride from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap.
From modern construction to traditional rural houses and dense riverside populations to the shifting patchwork of floating communities, the experience was leaps and bounds more interesting than what we would have gotten on a bus ride. The skies were perfect, the sun was sunny, and for six hours we lounged and watched a new world unfold around us.

The shuttle picked us up at our guesthouse about 7:15. We had to bounce around and pick up another 7 or 8 people, and eventually made it to Sisowath Quay boat dock, where we met our boat. 
It was filled with tourists from around the globe, most lounging on the top of the cabin and taking in the early morning sun and breeze. About 8am we were off!

The top of the cabin was about 5 feet wide and the first hour or so there were a lot of people soaking up sun, but eventually most people went below deck to the air conditioning.

Erin and I took advantage of the sun – neither of us really like beaches (or beach culture, to be more specific), so it was a great chance to enjoy the wind. I read through Stamping Butterflies, since I wanted to leave it with our hosts in Siem Reap.

Near Phnom Penh there was this project nearing completion. I don’t know what bridge it was, but it was pretty cool to see it coming together in the middle!

Most of the urban riverbanks looked like this – just houses stacked on houses stacked on houses, all stacked on stilts. Cambodia is much poorer than Vietnam… having its development basically ground to a halt (if not regressing) during the Khmer Rouge has, again, left its mark everywhere.

Everyone has a boat tied to their house.

As we went farther upstream, we passed several smaller densely populated riverbanks. Interspersed along all of these population centers were accompanying floating houses and shops.

The country was pretty – interesting buildings on stilts and the sharp outlines of palm trees interrupted miles and miles of rice and farming.

Water is an integral part of the seasons for Cambodians. The Tonle Sap Lake (which we spent the majority of our trip traveling across) rises and lowers a tremendous amount over the course of a year. During the dry season it flows south to the Mekong, but during the wet season it actually reverses its course, expanding the surface area of the lake from a mere 2700 sq. km to over 16,000 sq. km, flooding forests and fields.

From the center, it’s impossible to see either side of the lake – and this was entering the drier season (early February)! This was the view for hours, after we left the Tonle Sap River and entered the lake proper. The lake is the biggest in SE Asia, and one of the primary fisheries of the world. It’s also home to the biggest fish – asia’s giant catfish! The flooded terrain helps provide breeding grounds for fish, which make up the single biggest source of protein in Cambodian diet.

11 km south of Siem Reap is the Chong Kneas floating village. We passed houses, each tied off to neighboring trees and pockets of land. As we passed, they gave the impression of lots of land – a house, a little water around it, a boat or two in a garage-area.

The villages had everything – here you can see a floating buddhist temple. We also passed a school, a lumber yard, and more bars and cafes than I can remember… All floating! Pretty cool!

Half of the village is on land, or is on land during the dry season, I should say.

As we disembarked, tuk tuk drivers and small boys were calling out for customers, trying to get anyone that hadn’t made a reservation at the Phnom Penh docks. We found our driver and it was only a short while before we were in Siem Reap, and I was visiting with old friends.

Next up… “Follow that Tuk Tuk!” and Angkor Wat turns my brain inside out!