I posted heaps of photos on my Instagram of the floating village tour. The experience overall was very enjoyable and was guaranteed to give back to the community we were visiting. It is a not for profit tour company that looks to provide educational tours in a sustainable and socially responsible manner. On their website they describe what responsible tourism means to them. For these reasons I felt it was necessary to write a post dedicated to the whole tour.
Sustainable and Unsustainable Tourism
Tourism has a lot of negative impacts on our earth. For example, air travel, which is basically unavoidable if you want to get to the other side of the world. Another, riding Elephants, once a popular thing to do has been exposed for the detriment impacts it has. It is easy for companies to hide behind cheap prices, happy faces and disregard the negative impacts they are having on the community and environment. When it is out of site it is out of mind, and if you are not aware of the potential impacts then how are you to know in the first place. I would never know a lot of the negative social impacts if it wasn’t for being connected online and deciding to seek these issues out. So doing online research is your best bet. It is how I found this tour and how I have learned about what I should and should not do will traveling. It’s a contemporary issue, which is easily overlooked when the majority of tourists, myself included, are simply looking to escape and have a good time.
Community First is a not for profit organization which organizes responsible and sustainable tours to the local floating village, Kompong Khleang on Tonle Sap Lake. All of the profits go towards the Bridge of Life School which is another NGO in Cambodia which provides free primary school education, water and food where it is otherwise not available. Another thing to note is that they choose to hire staff from the community, therefore the profits go back into their economic system rather than foreigner pockets or someone not based in the village.
Other Tour Companies
Other tours provided to the other floating villages do not support in the same way as Community First. They have become a major tourist trap, prices are higher and the villages are not receiving a share of the profits. They are unfortunately being exploited. Read a few reviews on Trip Advisor and you can see that many people experienced scams and problems with their experience.
Floating Village Tour
The tour itself was really enjoyable. We got picked up from our hostel/hotels in the morning from a air conditioned van. The driver, a young student, was also our tour guide. First we stopped to sample some local treats. First we stopped for bamboo sticky rice. This dish is absolutely amazing, one of my favourites, inside is rice, coconut milk, palm sugar and black beans. Then we stopped at what appeared to be a road side shop but in the back was a full on small factory. They were making coconut donuts, coconut ice-cream cones and other treats.
Next we arrived to the houses on stilts, I arrived in the dry season so the tour is slightly different because of the drastic water level different. It is insane how much the water level changes. Looking at the pictures imagine that the water level would be directly below the floor, that is ridiculously drastic.
Bridge Of Life School
Next we took the van to the school that is supported by Bridge of Life School. My favourite part about this was that we didn’t really interact with the kids and we didn’t get to take pictures of them. Kids are cute as hell, no matter where you go and when tourists are in a country far unlike their own, it seems that people go a little more gaga over them. Point being is that they are children, humans, just like you or me and do not need to be exploited by pictures. Of course depending on the circumstances it may be viewed as acceptable. In this situation though I was content to know that the funds would help the school we visited and didn’t need any proof. We also talked about the both NGOs and how they help the community. Then wegot to learn about our tour guide, where he grew up in the village and village life itself.
Next we trekked over the dock area and jumped on a boat to take us down the river to the floating village. At this point I was a bit confused because I thought that the floating village was the village on stilts, it is not. Down the river about 30 minutes we came to the floating village. Everything in the village is built onto of a boat, the houses, local stores and the school. They are located at the point where the river meets Tonle Sap lake. We didn’t stop, but rather glided on through. This was the only part of the tour that felt slightly intrusive. For air circulation they leave both the front, back and side windows open to let air flow, so we were able to see completely through their homes.
In hindsight, it is still a tour and it is still brings people to basically stare at another group of people and the way they live, which is a bit creepy. Imagine tours coming to visit the street you grew up on and take pictures, it is still voyeuristic, and touches a bit close to personal space and how we should go about seeing the world. All in all if you’re going to visit, this is the option I suggest for the more ethical approach that it takes.