ABOUT THE COMMUNITY
Community First: Kompong Khleang Floating Village Tours is a not-for-profit community based tour benefiting Bridge of Life School, a NGO providing free educational related programming in Siem Reap and Kompong Thom Provinces. Our mission is to connect tourists to Kompong Khleang, a floating village on the Tonle Sap, in a responsible and meaningful way by both seeing the sites and learning about the community. Our tours are unique because we are based in the community, run by local residents, and all profits are reinvested in educational programming, hence the name "Community First".
The particular village we visit and work in is Outaput in Kompong Khleang. Kompong Khleang is about 55km outside of Siem Reap city on the Tonle Sap and is the largest floating village in Siem Reap province and home to more than 10,000 residents. The economy is dominated by fishing and due to seasonal flooding all homes either buoyed or on stilts (hence the name "floating village" - they literally appear to float for part of the year). Water levels drop several meters beginning in December and a sand bank forms during the later part of the season (end of January/February - June).
THE TONLE SAP
The Tonle Sap (literally the "Great Lake") is a lake and river system that extends throughout Cambodia and is the largest lake in all of South East Asia. It is of extreme importance to Cambodians as many live on it and earn their living through the lake, including residents of Kompong Khleang. It has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for it's ecology and local flora and fauna.
The Tonle Sap is unique because the water in it changes directions twice annually. As a result the level of the lake bottoms out during the dry season but can then swell by as much as 10 meters in the summer months. For this reason villages on the Tonle Sap are considered "floating"- homes, especially in Kompong Khleang, are either on stilts or are literally buoyant through the use of petrol tanks as bouys.
As mentioned earlier the Tonle Sap is rich in ecology and serves as the life blood for many Khmers and ethnic-Vietnamese immigrants who depend on it for survival. The majority of families living on the water earn their income through fishing in particular, and other businesses are supported through fishing income. Some families can also earn a living through farming in the dry season as the receding water leaves the soil wet and rich in nutrients carried in by the water movement..
As you will learn during your floating village tour, the Tonle Sap is an endangered environment. Overfishing has decimated local species and many of the fish caught today are extremely small. Man made pollution has also wreaked havoc on the lake, forcing dolphins and other rare fish and mammals to converge at small, cleaner locations. We are also seeing more and more damns up the Mekong River (for power generation) which has had disastrous effects locally. After being designated a world heritage site there have been many improvements and both the Cambodian government and local NGO's are working to conserve the Tonle Sap's biological diversity, landscape, and ecosystem.
Before participating on a floating village tour of Kompong Khleang we encourage guests to learn more about the Tonle Sap and communities living in Siem Reap. Here are some great articles and resources to get you started:
An article by The New York Times that discusses efforts to save the Tonle Sap
A blog posted with great information and photos on Kompong Khleang