One of the things we really wanted to do in Cambodia was a homestay. And once I heard there are homestays in floating villages, well, that cinched the deal.
Our goal was to stay at Kampong Luong, a floating village on Tonle Sap Lake, a few kilometers from Krakor. This is off the beaten tourist path, so we did all the research we could online before venturing off. An ethnically mixed village (Khmer and Vietnamese, though mostly Vietnamese), around 10,000 people live on houseboats year round, with cats, dogs, chickens, and more. I saw three German shepherds on one boat (I can’t imagine living in a two-room houseboat with three huge dogs) and overheard several roosters in the wee hours of the morning. Everything they do is on the lake: they live there, fish there, wash clothes there, cook with the water, and their squatty potties empty right back into the water (yes, very unhygienic, and there are many health problems with children because of it). It’s most subsistence living, though the village is entirely self-sustaining, with it’s own health clinic and school to boot.
We left Phnom Penh at 10:30 on a Capitol Tours bus that cost 11 USD per ticket. We purchased tickets that took us all the way to Battambang, on the northwestern end of the country, but needed to hop off halfway through the trip (and yes, we still had to pay the full price).
About four hours into the trip the bus stopped at Krakor. Jordan had asked the bus driver twice to let us off at Krakor (because obviously we can’t read Khmer). They forgot or didn’t care, but the nice old woman behind us overheard and thumped our seat, pointing out the window and saying, “Krakor!” insistently. I swear, our backpacking would be doomed to failure if it wasn’t for the kindness of strangers. Countless times they have helped us figure out where the heck we were going.
Krakor has two guesthouses in town, Paris Guesthouse as 59 Guesthouse. Paris is visible from the main road. We hopped off, grabbed our backpacks, and looked around, hoping for the next step to present itself before us. After 30 seconds it did, in the form of a very determined and slightly stalker-y tuktuk driver intent upon making money from us.
“Homestay? Kampong Luong?”
“Yes, yes,” I said. “Kampong Luong. Homestay. Sleep. Where?”
“I take you,” he said. “Ten dollar there.”
I wasn’t entirely sure of a fair charge, but knew that was far too much. We didn’t know what we were doing, so we told him no and ducked into the local market. He followed us just one aisle over. Eventually we decided that if he wanted us that badly, he would barter with us. So we turned and met up with him and a friend who knew more English.
After a very convoluted exchange we bought bus tickets to Siem Reap (11 USD apiece again, roughly five or six hours away) for 9 am the next morning. They said there wasn’t a later time. I didn’t (and still don’t) believe them, but I went with it anyway.
Jordan bargained the tuktuk driver down to eight dollars, and then I got him down to four dollars one-way. We explained we wanted to sleep in the village, and everyone nodded in agreement.
The village is between five and seven kilometers from Krakor and is one of the few towns that changes its geography. During the low season the villagers tow their homes out farther into the lake, which they were in the middle of when we arrived.
Our driver got us to a little hut down a long, bumpy red dirt road where three or four boatmen stood. There’s a faded sign nailed to a wall of the hut, and we pointed to what we wanted: a private room, overnight, and a boat ride there. The private room was 6 USD and the alternative was a cot with a mosquito net in the main living area for 4 USD a person. We paid a man 4 USD to take us to our homestay. The boat ride was less than ten minutes because our homestay location hadn’t been pulled away from shore yet.
The homestay was more of a hostel than an actual homestay, and we were a little disappointed to be so far from the rest of the village. But our host and his mother were kind and they gave us a fan for our room. He spoke no English and the extent of our Khmer is “hello” and “thank you,” so he would give us pieces of paper with English/Khmer on them and have us pick options.
Dinner was 5 USD for the both of us. We were unaware that we had to pay for dinner (and drinks, which are pricier than on land), but the food was tasty and somewhat cheap. He also let us pick a one-hour tour, either the Vietnamese half of the village or the Cambodian half, with the possibility of crocodile feeding. That was 5 USD per person, and it ended up almost being a waste of time and money. We didn’t stop at any of the sights (ice factory, hospital, school), he just drove past them and we took pictures from his boat. There were no crocodile feedings. It was only worth the money because we actually got to go to the rest of the village, rather than staying behind with the stragglers nearer shore. We also got to watch six or seven families begin tugging their homes by their boats, which was fun.
While Kampong Luong isn’t well known, it is mentioned in the Lonely Planet travel guide. We had a French couple stay across the hall from us, and in the roster I saw around 10 other names from that day, staying at the village. However, fair-skinned people are still a rarity, and the children love waving and yelling, “hello!” at the top of their lungs. We laughed and waved, enjoying their enthusiasm.
I had thought that being on a lake meant peace and quiet, but I forgot I was in southeast Asia. Boats with loud motors passed frequently until about midnight, then started up again at five. I guess it’s one of those things that you get used to if you live there, kind of like living next to railroad tracks. It got chilly at night, and we were grateful for the blanket they provided us with.
We had to leave early the next morning, at 7:45, to get back to the bus stop in Krakor by 8:15, just in case the bus came early. The bus came at 9, on time, and the ticket-seller made sure we got on and were headed the right direction.
A breakdown of costs for two people:
- $6 for homestay
- $10 for “tour”
- $5 for dinner
- $2 for water
- $2.50 for two cans of coke
- $8 tuktuk roundtrip
- $4 boat ride (one-way)
- Total: $37.50 for two people
This was more than we meant to pay, more than we had budgeted for (especially the $5 per person “tour). We had anticipated something around 19 or perhaps 20 USD. After we got over the sticker shock (the French couple had sticker shock also), we reflected on the uniqueness of seeing a floating village in the middle of its migration to deeper waters. That made the cost more worth it.