Kampong Chhnang: Life on the River    

Kompong Chhnang floating village
This morning but at breakfast Judith and Bill told us how they met a soldier on the boat ride back from Kampong Leaeng who told them about various aspects of river life-- fisheries, floating villages, etc. They asked him if he had any friends with boats and arranged to go boating today. The invited us and it sounded so nice, we couldn't refuse.

We caught motos down to the port. Judith and Bill's soldier friend couldn't come with us so we set off with the boat skipper, a casual, gentle looking individual with sun darkened skin, black hair and the slightest beginnings of wrinkles. His boat was covered which was a relief since even at 9:30 AM the sun was already hot. We were surprised to see life jackets and life preservers on the boat.

Our boatman
We didn't have to go far down the river before we were passing the floating villages. I had expected them to be stilt houses but they actually were more like houseboats with rafts below the small houses. Many seemed nicer and better built than the village stilt houses we'd seen. They had metal grates over the windows, bright blue paint and flowers and potted plants carefully arranged. Apparently most of the floating village residents are Vietnamese. Many had Chinese/Vietnamese New Year decorations around the entrances-- red with gold writing.

Floating village

Floating garden
Outside each had at least one boat. Sometimes just a simple long row boat but other times bigger boats painted blue, red and yellow, some with eyes painted on the prow. Some houses had thatched walls, some wooden. All seemed to have a TV antenna. Fishing nets were sometimes draped drying around the house or stashed in bundles. The houses were open and we could see people lounging in hammocks. Children excitedly smiled and waved as we went by. Some areas had fish pens made from woven bamboo fences set into the river.

Vietnamese wooden boat

Young boatman

Hello Hello

Fish coral
We crossed to the other side of the river where people processed fish paste. This was not the most pleasant of home-businesses since it involved fermenting fish and was highly pungent. The fish processing houses had pools for fish and straining screens.

We visited one where the fish were fermenting. The bottom of a boat was filled with headless fish and salt and weighed down so the fish were covered with a layer of brown river water. They stayed there until they fermented and then were taken to a straining place where the fish and water were sucked up a tube and sent through a metal screen. In the market, fish paste (prahok) is sold in open smelly vats that invariably have swarms of flies buzzing around them. It is one of the main ingredients in Cambodian food (hmmm... I'm having a sudden urge to eat pizza).

I guess the heads are processed somewhere else, we speculated, into a lower grade fish paste... ugh... I should also mention the houseboat toilets lead directly into the river.

From there we ventured into the second river and up towards what we thought was a bridge when we saw it yesterday. It turned out to be part of a seasonal fish catching plant. The wooden poles going across the river held the ends of fishing nets. The fish processing area was maybe 200 meters downstream and the nets stretched to it. The fish swam into the area and got trapped in the nets, unable to swim out. From the wood platform building we visited, the nets could be pulled in using a pulley system, and the fish removed. The fishery is a temporary structure and only exists during the dry season when the river is low. It is removed before the rainy season starts.

Fish caught in a net

Seasonal fishery

Fermented fish strainer
Across, there was an island, an isolated sliver of green life against the brown of the river. Our boat driver had produced a phrase book and pointed out the crops grown-- cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers, and watermelon.

There was a decent amount of activity on the river. We saw fishing boats with fishers throwing nets and woman in Vietnamese wide pointed hats row by transporting goods. On one fishing boat the fishers were pulling in their net. Its floats were made from aerosol cans.

Throwing a net
Our boatman offered to show us his house. He had really warmed to Judith's pointing out, “Nice to meet you.” in his phrase book. In turn he pointed to “Give me regards to your family.” His house was close to shore but still floating. We were greeted by his wife, one of his daughters, and his youngest son. His daughter studied English and invited us in with, “Sit down please.” His second son appeared. We admired the photos on the wall of the family. Judith immediately went to them and asked about them. I admired how quickly she seized the opportunity for communicating with minimal language. The house was spotless and comfortably cool receiving a breeze from the water. There were a couple chairs, and a hammock. The kitchen had pots neatly hung from the walls and dishes were neatly stacked. The youngest son began to be more comfortable with us and less frightened. We didn't stay long and went back to the boat just as our skipper's 2nd daughter came home from school. His oldest daughter boarded the boat to help pole it away from an area of water hyacinths. Then we let her off on a nearby boat from which she walked from boat to house to get back to their house. (Though we never saw how she got over the gap of water from between the last house and her own.) Maybe one of her siblings pushed their boat over for her.

Our boatman studies English while driving
We reached the port after a restful but interesting 2 hours. We went up to the food stalls and had a lunch of worms... not really. The fried noodle makers have 3 kinds of noodles: thin yellow, wider fettuccine and short fat rice noodles that until you really look close, look like small earthworms.

Looks like worms
We had them fried with vegetables and “kroeung” (gutteral KG-rew-ung) and served with a bit of the sweetened fish sauce on top. Pretty good though a bit hard to keep on the fork since they are kind of wiggly. We had “manoa” shakes (pineapple) to with them which hit the spot.

Rowshan and I took a walk along the river next to the floating village. It was dusk and the light was gentle though the air was still warm. Lots of kids played volleyball. A group of people played Bingo. One area had the houses where they smoked the fish. They were open shacks with palm thatch siding and corrugated metal roofs. There was a fire built in the bottom and the fish were on racks. There was a group of guys playing petanque using shoes and flip flops. Beyond them the houses got more spaced out and we were walking past fields with just small stilt houses.

Working in the rice paddies

Fish smoke house

Stilt house by the river

Mother and child enjoying the evening

Flipflop petanque
In the evening we saw a giant red spotted gecko on a wall near the hotel. We had seen tons of little geckos everywhere but never a giant red spotted one.

Giant red spotted gecko

[ View 2 Comments | ]

dx - posted on 4/8/2010
thats not a giant red spotted gecko its a tokay gecko

Rowshan - posted on 4/8/2010

Thanks for your comment and correction. However, I like the red spotted gecko more.

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