April through June, Leesburg’s Thomas Balch Library will feature a photo exhibit by Jim Hanna documenting the Kompong Phluk Floating Village in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Not far from the ancient Cambodian temples of Angkor Wat lies the Kampong Phluk Floating Village on the edge of Tonle Sap Lake, one of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia. It is home to about 700 families, who rely on fish and forests for their livelihood, and who have learned to adapt their way of life to the region’s dramatic annual flood cycle.
During the rainy season (June to November), the Lake’s water reaches a level that rises to just about the height of Village structures. But in December, when Hanna’s photographs were made, the water level drops to become a narrow river revealing a community of houses, temples, schools and commerce suspended on stilts rising some three stories high. The engine of this phenomenon is the Mekong River, which backs up into the Tonle Sap River from monsoon rains to expand the surface area of lake more than five-fold and then reverses itself in the dry season.
This forested floodplain supports an extraordinarily rich and diverse eco-system. It is inhabited by more than 100 varieties of water birds including several threatened and endangered species, over 200 species of fish, and crocodiles, turtles, macaques, otter and other wildlife in the mangrove forests.
Before the late 1990s, and in the wake of the upheavals of the Khmer Rouge era in Cambodia, Kampong Phluk was a remote village that suffered from a lack of communication and damaging commercial practices that were depleting its fishing and forestry resources. Since then, with the help of international development agencies, the Village has utilized community-based management to improve its infrastructure for cooperative fishing and ecotourism, exercise conservation of the flooded forest, and preserve its diverse wildlife and aquatic flora and fauna. This has also enabled it to establish primary and secondary schools, a health center, a police station and a restaurant.
In the Village these days, long Mekong boats are piloted by young boys traveling the river by crocodile cages, lotus fields, and mangrove forests. The river bustles with paddle boat traffic of fishermen and of children on their way to school. The river is bordered by local residents hard at work cooking buckets of rice over campfires, doing laundry, weaving, and otherwise navigating steep ladders that provide the only entrance to their fragile abodes.
There is a feeling of strength and resolve among its people in the midst of a culture on the edge.
For a different look at the Village, view “Kompong Phluk Floating Village by Drone” on youtube.