written by:
photos by:
February 25, 2010

During my jaunt to Cambodia last month, when I was not hauling bricks to build an outdoor school kitchen with my studio, I had the chance to see a multitude of informal building in both urban and rural areas of the country. On one of our precious days off, we dashed off in tuk-tuks, motorbikes, and boats to explore the legendary floating villages on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap lake.

1 / 10
My first stop was the village of Chong Khneas, located on the northwestern edge of the Tonle Sap Great Lake and the closest to Siem Reap (the city just outside Cambodia's famous Angkor Wat temples.) WIth over 1300 houseboats and 5000 residents, Chong Khne
My first stop was the village of Chong Khneas, located on the northwestern edge of the Tonle Sap Great Lake and the closest to Siem Reap (the city just outside Cambodia's famous Angkor Wat temples.) WIth over 1300 houseboats and 5000 residents, Chong Khneas also boasts a floating school, a floating church, and even a floating basketball court.
Photo by 
2 / 10
Several of the colorful wooden tourist boats lined up, also known as ‘river taxis.’ (I rode one of these.)
Several of the colorful wooden tourist boats lined up, also known as ‘river taxis.’ (I rode one of these.)
Photo by 
3 / 10
The houseboats and other transportable dwellings are constructed by each family, occasionally with a the help of a more experienced builder in the community. Many are built from bamboo, teak, thatched palm leaves, corrugated metal, and found materials --
The houseboats and other transportable dwellings are constructed by each family, occasionally with a the help of a more experienced builder in the community. Many are built from bamboo, teak, thatched palm leaves, corrugated metal, and found materials -- plastic sheeting, discarded banners, tarps, fabrics, and the like.
Photo by 
4 / 10
For the most part, living on the water is very harsh -- there is no sanitation or drinking water connections, and little electricity. (According to one fisherman, a government boat comes by once a week with a charger so that villagers can recharge their l
For the most part, living on the water is very harsh -- there is no sanitation or drinking water connections, and little electricity. (According to one fisherman, a government boat comes by once a week with a charger so that villagers can recharge their lights and small appliances.) Many families tether cages to their houseboats, where fish and crocodiles are kept and fattened with everyday wastes.
Photo by 
5 / 10
A few children playing on the village basketball court.
A few children playing on the village basketball court.
Photo by 
6 / 10
After chatting with my boat guide, I was able to glean that many of these villagers on the Tonle Sap lake are, in fact, not Cambodian -- a few are indeed Khmer households, but a large proportion are ethnic Vietnamese refugees.  Since they are not legally
After chatting with my boat guide, I was able to glean that many of these villagers on the Tonle Sap lake are, in fact, not Cambodian -- a few are indeed Khmer households, but a large proportion are ethnic Vietnamese refugees. Since they are not legally allowed to settle on Cambodian land, they must make their homes and livelihoods on the lake, where poverty is a daily struggle.
Photo by 
7 / 10
This is the ‘Freshwater Fish Exhibition’ - a fish farm and a large gathering hall. All floating villages on the Tonle Sap lake depend on fishing to survive. The Tonle Sap is the largest inland body of water in Southeast Asia and is a true nutritional boun
This is the ‘Freshwater Fish Exhibition’ - a fish farm and a large gathering hall. All floating villages on the Tonle Sap lake depend on fishing to survive. The Tonle Sap is the largest inland body of water in Southeast Asia and is a true nutritional bounty -- its annual fish catch provides Cambodia with two-thirds of its protein. Environmentalists, however, are worried about the alarming deforestation of the surrounding flood forests, which is destroying wet-season fish habitats.
Photo by 
8 / 10
As I learned from the Gecko Environmental Center in Chong Khneas, the Tonle Sap lake is unique because its flow actually changes direction twice a year.  I visited in January, during the dry season, and the lake was draining southwards into the Mekong Riv
As I learned from the Gecko Environmental Center in Chong Khneas, the Tonle Sap lake is unique because its flow actually changes direction twice a year. I visited in January, during the dry season, and the lake was draining southwards into the Mekong River. However, when the rainy season begins in June, the river will start to flow backwards to fill up the lake to five times its dry season size.
Photo by 
9 / 10
As a result of the seasons, the position of these villages must constantly change with the ups and downs of the water level.  When the water rises, many people move further ‘inland’ along a narrow channel. At the pinnacle of the wet season, much of the Ch
As a result of the seasons, the position of these villages must constantly change with the ups and downs of the water level. When the water rises, many people move further ‘inland’ along a narrow channel. At the pinnacle of the wet season, much of the Chong Khneas community settles around an isolated hill nearby called Phnom Kraom.
Photo by 
10 / 10
cambodia floating1

To see images, please visit the slideshow.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
angular
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016
amaroso40040
When a garage damaged by termites had to go, a studio emerges.
June 19, 2016
the blue lagoon iceland geothermal spa hotel water visitors
The famed geothermal spa outside Reykjavík, Iceland, is entering a major new phase—paving the way for the area’s first five-star hotel.
June 19, 2016
heaven on earth maya lin topography what is missing california academy sciences wood video
A new monograph by Rizzoli explores the memorial project by the renowned artist.
June 19, 2016
gable game austin texas cantilevered home facade windows upper level car port
For Dwell's annual issue dedicated to indoor/outdoor living. Here, we introduce you to the photographers and writers who made it happen.
June 18, 2016
Modern prefab lakeside home in Bloomingdale, New Jersey
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
June 18, 2016
Rectangular bento glass table with compartments.
These top-notch projects by design students earned a spot on our honor roll.
June 18, 2016
bozley all
Jory Brigham picks up his family’s trade and takes it in unexpected directions.
June 17, 2016
ph133407
The outlandish Belgian fashion designer, a member of the iconic Antwerp Six, creates a quirky pattern-filled capsule collection for the Swedish mega-retailer—with a high-tech twist.
June 17, 2016
2016 Triumph Pavilion
A creative take on the classic children's toy.
June 17, 2016
planar and simple chicago farmhouse addition kitchen mutina cabinets tiles pella window kohler faucet
A relaxed interior and radical roof make a home more sociable and energy-efficient.
June 17, 2016
up and away renovation san francisco family room richard wright painting sofa
A couple bring cohesion to an architectural mishmash in San Francisco.
June 17, 2016
new head of its class connecticut renovation summer home facade bleached cedar siding volumes glass bridge
A Connecticut home with a notable architectural legacy gets an expansive update for a family of six.
June 17, 2016
Rockefeller Center filled with cactus during the month of June.
To welcome summer, the plaza at Rockefeller Center transforms into a desert landscape.
June 16, 2016