There’re two neighbourhoods at Tonlé Sap yet it’s flabbergastingly placid.
Is it because it’s a sizeable open area or they just merely don’t like to talk?

What brings you here tonight?” asks JL.

“I’ve new photos to show! Let me in…” I say,

“That’s unlike the floating markets of Thailand, these are real boat dwellers in Tonlé Sap, Cambodia.”

“So what’re boat dwellers?” JL opens the door.

“As the name suggests, they are those who inhabit on boats,” I say. I fish the album out of my bag. Then I hand it to JL as we walk to the living room.

“So are those living at Tonlé Sap considered living in poverty?” she asks, settling herself on the sofa.

“I think not really.” I take off my coat and put it on the coat hanger, “At least not all of them do.”

“So why would they live on the waters if not so?”

“Although some of them are not poor,” I sit next to JL and say, “they are not loaded either.”

“So you still haven’t explained why they are living on the boats.” JL starts browsing the album, with muscles in her face tightened.

“To save rents. There are two groups of people – Vietnamese and Cambodians.” I say, “And most of them catch fish for livings.”

JL is interested, “So would they ever have quarrels?”

“That is a famous attraction. I believe it should be peaceful.”


“Literally,” JL looks up at me, “what is so amusing there as a tourist attraction?”

“That’s not amusing.” I reply, “The major activities are just to look at the lives of those boat dwellers.”

“So do you suggest that,” JL pours me a cup of tea, with forehead puckered, then she puts the pot back, “they are just like animals in the zoo? Pity for them…”

“Yes…You’re right.” I reply with a fake laugh.

“In fact,” JL screws up her face, looking at the album again, “your photos are so disturbing.”

“Actually, Cambodia had the worst drought in the history during my visit. The water level of the lake was hauled down a considerable amount.” I answer with a dry laugh, “I was almost rowing on the mug… Floating on the lake under 38°C was just a frustrating experience indeed.”

“Why were the pictures all close shots this time?” JL continues flipping pages.

“This was out of my expectation.” I nod, “Because of the drought, the water level was too low to have large boats cruising through. The boat dwellers had moved to the other side of the lake as well. And of course, big boats were not able to reach there. I had to rent a smaller boat with double price to enter their place. And so, I had to stay close to them.”

“So are there only residences?” JL asks, “How do they get daily necessities?”

“A small community was formed in the locale. There are two orphanages in the neighbourhood (Vietnamese and Cambodians);” I say, “There is even a floating basketball court; You can also find some little shops and kiosks there. Also, you wouldn’t believe that there is a tiny crocodile pit!”

“Kiosk?” JL is bug-eyed, “I doubt if they can afford to spend there.”

“They are mainly for tourists. They also sell souvenirs there. The crocodile pit serves the same purpose too.”

“And they also take their dumps on the lake…So…the water…”

“If you look down at the lake, I’m sure you won’t wish to look at it the second time… It’s murky, with innumerable oil bubbles and other stuff afloat… But the kids there wouldn’t care.”

“I can visualise that. Still, the pictures are undoubtedly traumatic.” JL has her lips primed, “Actually, lives like this should be so free even they are impecunious.”

“I can only say… The impoverished account for the majority.

When the tourists’ boat approached, a wretched mother rushed to us with her kid, beseeching for money. Do you see the python on that kid? That’s for the tourists to take photos.” I finish my cup of tea and continue, “When our boat reached the centre of the lake, different little boats came and begged once in a while. Sometimes there were some kids sleeping on those boats, sometimes the kids even begged together. That feels sad. But the guide told us not to give them money.”

JL says, “I can imagine that. But, the problem is, what kind of attraction is this?”

“It exploits the poverty and turns it into an attraction … That sounds cruel, but that’s indeed their sheer source of income.”

JL’s brows are drawn together in thoughtful consideration.

She does not utter a word and is staring at the photos without an aim.

Those eyes remind me of the eyes I saw in Tonlé Sap.

They were so empty.



Tonlé Sap is a lake located in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

How large is the lake? It’s almost endless. For a time I even thought I was on the sea.

What is the fun there?

To tell the truth, the main activity there is to see the local fishermen’s lives.

Among those assorted shacks afloat,

Some seemed destitute,

while some had LCD TV hanging inside.

It’s worth mentioning that the place is flabbergastingly placid.

Is it because it’s a sizeable open area or they just merely don’t like to talk?


Victor Tai | Freedom is a Right

  • CameraCanon EOS 3 / EF 70-200mm f2.8L USM II
    ILFORD 100
  • LocationTonlé Sap, Siem Reap,
  • Other Language繁體中文

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