Photographer's Note


On my second afternoon in Siem Reab, I left Angkor Wat early to use the last few hours before dark going back to Phnom Kraom — the poor community along the dirt road extending from the paved National Road 63 that I went by twice the day before.

Walking along the line of huts on road side, I distributed the milk fruits I bought in town to the local children. I met a little girl sat by herself over the wooden stairs of her nest and gave her a fruit. Grabbing the present, she ran away from me. The driver explained to me that she was afraid I may take the fruit back.


Phnom Kraom located near Tonle Sap Great Lake — the Southeast Asia's largest freshwater lake that provides livelihoods for over 10% of Cambodia's population. Its water level varies considerably to the inhabitants of 6 of the 7 villages at Chong Kneas live in houseboats. The 7th village is perched on the side of a road embankment running south from Phnom Kraom, an isolated rocky outcrop rising about 140 meters above the otherwise flat terrain of the seasonally flooded land bordering Tonle Sap.

For those whose live on water, life is extreme hardship and vulnerability. In spring, melting snows in the Himalayas spark off a remarkable chain of events in distant Cambodia that affects the livelihoods of some of the world’s poorest people. Boosted by monsoon rains and with its gradient now too flat to retain the flow within its banks, the river spills out over large parts of Cambodia, where up to 65% of cultivated land is covered each year by floodwater. The Tonle Sap River, which joins the Mekong at Phnom Penh, acts as a safety valve by absorbing part of the excess. It reverses its flow from mid-May to October, massively expanding the volume of the Tonle Sap Lake, 100 km “upstream,” close to Angkor Wat.

In the dry season, the floating villages anchor in a small inlet at the edge of the lake, where there is ready access to fishing grounds and some protection from storms and waves. When the water level is high, residents of Chong Kneas cluster at the base of Phnom Kraom where is often heavily congested with regular traffic, floating houses, fish cages being towed, and tourist boats coming and going. As a result, the area is clogged with floating trash, rotting organic matter, and fuel and oil spills, making it a stinking repository of solid and liquid waste.

The annual shifting of the lakeshore has created a highly unusual living pattern for the people in the community of Chong Kneas at the northwestern end of the lake. Some 5,000 people live on houseboats moored within the lake during the dry season and move “inland” along a narrow channel as the waters rise. Other families, who live along the road embankment beside the channel, load their houses onto the backs of trucks to seek higher ground as the water rises. The whole community settles around an isolated hill at Phnom Kraom when the lake is at its highest level.


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Additional Photos by Ngy Thanh (ngythanh) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 471 W: 125 N: 2361] (8582)
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