Cambodia is experiencing the worst drought in several decades. The water levels are so low that you can stand in the middle of the Siem Reap river with water at your knees.
During my visit, I had the chance to go to Chong Khneas, the closest and more tourist friendly water village in the Siem Reap area. I knew about the drought and didn't know what to expect once I got there.
Chong Khneas is located at the spot where the Siem Reap river merges into the Tonlé Sap lake. The area is known as a floodplain, as its size is reduced during dry season and floods back during rainy season. This place has been an important source of food for people in the area dating all the way back to the Angkorean civilization.
As a tourist destination, this place is packed with tour boats that charge $20 USD per person for a one hour tour of the village. They leave from the river and take around 20 minutes to arrive to the lake, where the village is.
A few thousand people live in Chong Khneas, although many have left because of the drought. Despite of what some may think, the structures actually float on the water and are not on stilts.
The city that floats has schools, shops and even a gas station. I was warned about the boat driver taking us to an orphanage and making us buy overpriced food for the children from their own shop. I still don't know if it's really a scam, as you may read online, but I feel safer donating through NGOs and other similar organizations. With so many children working in the area, my assumption was that these donations don't help keep kids in school and fed and I wouldn't be surprised if the food we buy goes straight back to the shelves to be sold to the next tourist. Here is a list of genuine ways to donate to these people.
The process of actually catching fish is simple, but the aftermath takes much more time and effort. Because of the drop in the water level, the Tonlé sap naturally carries away thousands of fish. The fishermen simply place cone-shaped nets into the water from their floating houses and then lift the net as soon as seconds later. - Wikipedia