Kompong Loung -

a floating town on the Tonle Sap Lake

Ray Zepp, a teacher who has travelled to the far corners of the globe, published the first edition of his Cambodia Less Traveled guidebook in October 1996. The book gives the reader an insight into the 'other' Cambodia, not usually found in the glossy guidebooks and is a treasure trove of anecdotes and experiences in many off the beaten track places throughout Cambodia. Zepp, now living and working in Micronesia, also published his fascinating A Field Guide to Cambodian Pagodas in June 1997 but the story below is taken from his unpublished northeast supplement to his Less Traveled edition. My thanks to Ray for permission to re-print this insight into his travels into the Cambodian heartland:

The town of Krakor is a convenient lunch stop on the long, dusty Highway 5 to Battambang, before you get to Pursat. It is, according to the signpost, 153 kilometres from Phnom Penh. That signpost also points to Kompong Loung off to the right. Kompong Loung is a floating town on the Tonle Sap Lake, and I do mean a town rather than just a village. I estimate the population at about 10,000 and it comes complete with floating schools, floating mosques, floating dentist offices, you name it! The proof that it is really a floating town is the signpost in Krakor described above, which states that the distance to Kompong Loung is 'maximum 7 km, minimum 2 km', as the town changes location from dry season to wet season, when the Tonle Sap Lake doubles in size.

Kompong Loung is a photographer's paradise and hell at the same time. On the one hand, the Vietnamese women wear solid bright colours - reds, purples, greens, turquoises - which make beautiful foregrounds with the darker water and floating houseboats in the background. There are all sorts of action shots with people selling coloured water bottles, food and cloth from their small boats. Early mornings and late afternoons are ideal times for catching the sun on the water and lighting up the picturesque water scenes. On the other hand, if you are taking pictures, from a moving boat, of other moving boats, you will be frustrated at never actually achieving that perfect composition. That perfectly situated boat in front of a colourful shop always seems to slip just beyond your intended photograph.

Because I wanted to catch the evening and morning light, I tried to stay overnight in Kompong Loung. I thought I had it arranged, but at the last minute, they said there was no place to stay, and that accommodation could be arranged in Krakor. The accommodation turned out to be a camp bed with a mosquito net in the back of a small restaurant. It was comfortable enough, but was fairly noisy late into the night while the family watched television. They were a nice, friendly family and treated me graciously, asking only 1000 riel for the overnight stay.

The inhabitants of Kompong Loung are almost completely Vietnamese. You will hardly hear a word of Khmer spoken here, and most of the signs are in Vietnamese. There is a marked difference in friendliness even between the Kompong Loung people and those in the Khmer town of Krakor. The Vietnamese fear the Khmer because of history both ancient and recent. There have been massacres of Vietnamese fishermen on the Tonle Sap Lake in recent years, so these lake dwellers can be excused for treating all outsiders a bit suspiciously. They are not unfriendly, many of them treated me very nicely indeed, but they are simply a bit more reserved than most Cambodians.

The street from Krakor that leads out to Kompong Loung turns into the 'main street' of the floating town. This is the main thoroughfare for boats going out another kilometre or so to where the floating residences actually begin. You can see the floating town ahead as distinquished by a forest of television antennas. There are a few other 'streets' off to the left, but beyond these the boats are spread out in disarray. You will probably be traveling with a guide who will undoubtedly take you to his own (or his friend's) restaurant, where you can sit comfortably and have a bowl of noodle soup or a beer while watching all the activity going on around you. At the place I was stationed, many small boats pulled up and ordered eggs and apparently raw meat. My guide also showed me a fish farm, where he threw in some food and I witnessed an unbelievable feeding frenzy.

I visited Kompong Loung on the afternoon of the last day of the traditional Buddhist Pchum Ben festival. Apparently the entire province of Pursat had also decided to spend the day there. Thousands of happy holiday-makers were besporting themselves, mostly going out in boats beyond the town into the open Tonle Sap Lake for their picnics. When I arrived, many were already heading home, but were stopping off in Krakor for a last drink or snack. A lot of coloured water was being thrown at people as part of the traditional festivities. I was thoroughly covered in yellow and purple by the time I reached the lake. There was also a loudspeaker hooked up across the creek, where there was 'mud-dancing'. Youngsters were slipping and sliding to the usual popular Cambodian tunes, and having a great time. Nearby, a carousel was chock-a-block with kids, the boys selecting to ride the airplane-shaped seats while the girls chose the horses.

I suppose I should say a word or two about Krakor town, but really, there is not much to say. It is the generic third world toad town - dusty, dirty, noisy, filled with small eateries with pots of all sorts of snacks fro travelers who pass through at meal times and need to fill their stomachs and their petrol tanks. Because it is near the Tonle Sap, it is known for its fish and other acquatic life, and because it is near the Kravanh mountains, you can also get deer meat and other exotic dishes from the forest. Most travelers coming from Phnom Penh stop at one of two places on the right, about 400 metres past the town's only intersection. You can have a quick bowl of deer (='chluk') stew before setting off for the long, dusty stretch to Pursat and Battambang. I have heard that one of the fast boats from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap stops off at Kompong Loung, although I cannot verify this. If so, it would be an ideal way to see this unique place.

Above article courtesy of Ray Zepp.

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