Chong Kneas floating village in Cambodia
Tonle Sap is Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake, providing livelihoods for over 10% of Cambodia’s population. Its water level varies considerably and the inhabitants of six of the seven villages at Chong Kneas live in houseboats that need to be moved with the changing levels. As with other fishing communities in the flooded area of the Tonle Sap, the way of life for the 5,000 or so inhabitants is strongly tied to the seasonal rise and fall of water. In the dry season, the floating villages anchor in a small inlet at the edge of the lake, where there is ready access to fishing grounds and some protection from storms and waves.
The area is home to many ethnic Siamese (Thai) and to a large Vietnamese and Cham community. Some members of the floating population were once farmers who fled to the lake in the 1970s when they lost their land during the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror. Others, many of Vietnamese origin, have been there much longer and have known no other life.
For the residents of the floating villages of Chong Kneas, life on the water is not a cultural tradition that people cherish and wish to preserve. When the villagers were consulted about their living conditions, they said that they would prefer to live on the land and have access to clean water and sanitation as well as have their children go to proper schools instead of the poorly maintained floating school.