For my Birthday/New Years I decided to tour the floating village of Kompong Khleang (Tonle Sap Lake) and the ancient jungle ruins of Beng Mealea.  Khleang is over an hour from Siem Reap allowing it to be less affected by tourism, which was a refreshing change to not be bombarded by locals to buy crappy souvenirs. There were only 3 of us on the tour which allowed time to make several impromptu stops in route to Tonle Sap Lake. I really enjoyed having the opportunity to catch a glimpse of Cambodia’s country side and experience the genuine life of a family, compared to the constant bartering I get in the cities.

Along the way we tried sticky rice that was served in bamboo, you then peel the bark (like a banana) to eat.  The Cambodian version of a coffee bad.  Further down the road we stopped at a local morning market where we met the women who were selling an array of fish and produce. Everyone was very welcoming and would wave and say “Hello.” There were a  few would shy away as 3 very tall white people randomly were walking through their village.

About halfway to the lake our driver asked if we were interested in visiting a crocodile farm at one of the houses down the road, “Sure, why not!” It’s not everyday you enter a villagers home in the country side of Cambodia to see 25+ crocodiles living there. The adult crocs were about 75 feet below us and we stood on a fairly sketchy (but seemingly safe) intertwined bamboo floor directly above them. This was the last thing I expected to do on my tour to the floating village.

When we arrived to the village of Kompong Khleang, we took a boat ride out to Tonle Sap Lake where we viewed the settlement of over 20,000 people mostly fisherman and traders. This area is most spectacular at low water, when the houses tower up to ten meters above the river. At high water the atmosphere changes markedly. The roads become canals, so you can enjoy cruising between the houses in this “Venice” of South east Asia. A feature of this tour was visiting a floating fish market, where we meet the local fishermen to buy fresh fish for our lunch. We finished our morning by having lunch arranged for us at the stilt house of our boatmen. The food and experience was amazing, they set up a few tables for us to sit and brought out this array of fish, vegetables, rice and soup.

From Khleang we drove an hour to visit the hidden jungle temple of Beng Mealea. For years the temple was difficult to reach but a road was recently built to the temple now allows very easy access (which means that this hidden gem will soon be visited by thousands of people every year).  Beng Mealea looks much as it did when first discovered, it is unrestored, cloaked in vegetation with huge trees growing out of the ruins. In areas the temple looks like a huge pile of rubble but as we climbed over the rocks you can really see the beautiful structure that still remains.

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