CHONG KNEAS: BIKE RIDE TO A FLOATING VILLAGE
Chong Kneas is a rural area only a bike ride away from downtown Siem Reap, Cambodia. Many parts of the village run off the main road. However, a significant portion is considered the floating village, a collection of homes and huts built on stilts on the water edge.
BIKE OR TUK-TUK FROM SIEM REAP TOWN?
In town I had looked around in the tour offices and there are many trips to Chong Kneas floating village offered. For $13 a tuk-tuk will drive you to the floating village where you will need to pay another $5 for a boat ride. If you are up for an adventure at your own pace I highly suggest the bike journey. Not only is it a great workout, being able to stop to check out sights on to the side of the road gives you a lot of freedom.
Staying in Siem Reap I decided to rent a Mountain Bike for $3 USD and started pedaling away from the busy pub street and surrounding areas. The searing heat immediately had me sweating and I spent the majority of the dripping in sweat, my t-shirt entirely saturated.
Pedaling south along the river I stopped many times to explore small tracks to the side of the road and stumbled my way towards a temple called Wat Atwea. Despite several online guides claiming it was free to enter I was waved away by guards as I tried to enter. Luckily at this temple there is much to see outside the fenced area. Monks chopped work and meditated while I wandered around the grounds inspecting the temples and watching locals throwing fishing nets in ponds.
I jumped back on the bike and headed further south on a barren stretch of road. Often at times I couldn’t see another person behind nor in front of me. I was just pedaling in the middle of the nowhere, fields to my left and fields to my right. It was a great feeling to be all alone on an adventure only minutes from the busy streets around the markets in downtown.
My next stop was for a cold water at the foot of the Phnom Krom Hill. I asked a local kid to watch my bike as I climbed the hundred or so stairs up the Hill. At the summit a sign pointed to a ticket office and I decided I had seen enough of the view to not desire any further incline. From the top of the stairs I got a good insight into not only Phnom Krom but also Chong Kneas floating village.
My legs needed a break so I stopped for a drink at a small family-run store. The kids soon started to hang around me as I enjoyed a refreshing drink. I hung out with the kids for a while, taking photos of them, editing them and blowing up their portraits full-screen to their amazement.
They wanted to play soccer so we headed into an unused warehouse and I played goalkeeper for an hour as eight young kids battled it out, trying to impress me with their skills. I had some spare bracelets and they were all stoked with their new bling. As I left they chased me down the street.
I hopped on the back and rode the Phnom Krom loop. A 20 minute cruise through an extremely under-developed region was an experience. I waved to lots of kids, got hit in the head by a chicken and laughed at by many locals. Everyone was friendly as always and school had just finished so I got lots of weird looks from the school kids. This is a region few tourists visit as there are no ‘attractions’ per say in the area that I came across.
CHONG KNEAS FLOATING VILLAGE
I rode a little further south and began to scope out Chong Kneas. I wanted to explore but also find a nice spot for sunset. Many of the homes gleamed in vibrant colors. The bright colors filled the town with a happy vibe despite the disorganized allotment of plots and trash scattered throughout the region.
I headed back on the bike towards town to grab some food before the golden hour arrived. A huge piece of chicken and some rice set me back $2. Street might be cheap and risky in the opinion of some travelers but if you are game it is often the tastiest meal you can get. I haven’t had a single issue with street food in almost 6 months in Southeast Asia.
The lighting was now perfect and I ventured into one strip of land that speared through the middle of the lake. One straight road led to nowhere with homes cramming the edges of the lake and the sides of the strip. It reminded me a lot of the whisky village in Luang Prabang.
SUNSET IN CHONG KNEAS FLOATING VILLAGE
Immediately I was swarmed by kids who wanted to be the centre of attention every single time I looked ready to take a photo. While it seemed like a great chance to capture some photos of the kids playing they didn’t quite understand how the 55mm lens worked and came within inches of the lens looking straight back at me.
Despite this fun game of stare at each other through both sides of the camera, I managed to do my best in capturing the essence of the end of a day in Chong Kneas floating village. One third of the kids roamed the streets naked while the others wore tattered western clothes. Parents and grandparents sat on the edges of their homes watching over the street.
I received a few glares from some of the residents in the village, but overall I was greeted with open arms and even invited back the following night for some Cambodian wine. I challenge you to find a group of kids who smile more than those in Chong Kneas. Visiting the Chong Kneas floating village was a great experience and I definitely gave the kids something to do while the sun set over the picturesque lake.
And here are a few other shots from what will go down as a great day in Siem Reap: