Lake Tonle Sap near Siem Reap in Cambodia is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia. This giant and unique body of water changes drastically in size over the course of the year. In the rainy season between June and October, the lake is massive, flooded with water from the Mekong River while during the dry season the lake shrinks to such a degree that its flow reverses to deposit water back into the Mekong. Most impressively, it contains over 100 completely floating villages, most lengthy boat rides from the shore.
Because of the changing water levels, families who make their living through fishing move around the lake as it changes size.
This lake produces over 400,000 tons of fish each year that feeds over 3 million people.
The villages exist to support these fisherman. In total, 80,000 people live on the water permanently, spread out over 170 floating villages.
The income is consistent, but life on the lake is difficult due to limited food and conditions. The average life expectancy of a fisherman is only 54 years.
Often fisherman don’t return from their trips. Many of the floating villages have their own floating orphanages to handle the many children whose parents do not survive.
Life is also difficult on the children due to the conditions and lack of medical care. Also, while fish is plentiful, fruits and vegetables are not, which makes it difficult to ensure a complete diet. 12 per cent of the children die before the age of five.
To support the fisherman and their families, the towns have floating convenience stores, gas stations, supermarkets, hospitals, schools, and even basketball courts.
Of course, you must go everywhere by boat, so even the most simple errands can be difficult and lengthy to complete.
Most of the residents are self-sufficient and have with floating vegetable gardens and floating barns where they keep goats, pigs and chickens.
They even have pet dogs, which is sure to be difficult with the lack of space.
It’s an interesting and difficult life, but ultimately the job can provide more consistent income than most others in Cambodia, so there is no shortage of people willing to take the risk.