What is a floating village? Basically, houses built on stilts to accommodate monsoon season flooding on the Tonle Sap river in central Cambodia.
It’s a bit funny to me that this is a tourist destination, since back home, my Dad’s boat is docked in a river with houses on stilts. But those stilts accommodate the varying water levels brought on by tide fluctuations.
So, essentially the floating village tour features “flood-proof houses”. But, either way, being on a boat ain’t so bad, especially when it’s 90 degrees F!
TRAVEL TIP: DON'T BOOK A FLOATING VILLAGE TOUR ONLINE IN ADVANCE. You can get it much cheaper in Siam Reap. Actually, this is something I have experienced almost the whole year through for all tours. Almost NEVER book in advance. This theory is completely contrary to how I used to travel. You want to feel safe knowing you have travel plans and tours solidified. TRUST ME. 9 times out of 10 you will get ripped off. Unless the tour is something like the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, which requires special permits and a guide---you can almost always get something cheaper by booking through your hotel or asking around town. Be patient. Been burned many times on this year trip by booking in advance.
There are lots of tour companies that feature the floating villages, but beware---lots are overpriced and get really bad reviews. Some of the more well known companies are $40 - $50 and some include a visit to the crocodile farm.
But, my Siam Reap travel buddy Carolin and I did our homework. Well, she did most of it. She found a small tour ticket booth in Siam Reap that offered a tour for $18 USD! And it was really nice.
We were picked up first thing in the morning and our tour guide ‘Vanna’ was quite charming. He grew up in the village and was eager to show us his hometown. He was entertaining too, “I am lucky, I am the most handsome man in my family. I am 30 years old. My wife is older than me, but it’s ok because I love her.”
Our cruise was only ~8-10 people total. Lots of the big companies pack you in like sardines on 50-70 person boats.
When we got on the boat, a 10 year old Cambodian boy named ‘Ka’ joined us. As soon as we sat down for the cruise, he got in the seat behind me and started massaging my neck. I realized he was looking for a tip...and sure enough he says, “$1 dollar.” It felt really good though, so I was happy to oblige. But, as soon as I said yes, the quality of the massage went down the drain. Ahhhh, what do you expect I guess. He was a good kid and kept me plenty entertained throughout the day.
We cruised for a while down the Tonle Sap river and stopped at the center of the village to check things out. Lots of kids getting out of school! Super cute.
Optionally, the tour featured an up-sell of $5 USD for the ‘floating forest’ cruise through the mangrove trees. Mangrove trees have special roots that allow them to grow in brackish water. I know, nice use of the word ‘brackish’, Matt!
This was SO worth it! It was incredibly peaceful. And, the shade of the mangrove trees provided a cool relief from the unbearable heat. We even saw a monkey climbing in the trees. Monkeys always make things more interesting, methinks.
The women of the village are the ones who row the boats. That’s their job, while the guys are out fishing. They even bring kids with them.
Our guide was super sweet, and paddled like a pro. Near the end of the tour, she pulled up a shrimp trap and sure enough, one little shrimp!
After the forest, we ate lunch on a floating restaurant and I had a huge craving for shrimp...which I devoured like a giant.
The ride back was quite nice. I mostly hung out on the roof of the boat, snapping pics of the locals and fishermen...
...and clownin’ around with my new buddy Ka. Good kid, he is.
All in all, our tour was ~5 hours with travel time to and from our hotel. A relaxing way to spend a half day in Siam Reap. And, an interesting Cambodian cultural experience!
A famous man once said, "No day on a boat is a bad day." Wait...I may have just made that up? But, you get the point.