Life on the Water: Kampong Phluk, Cambodia
28 November, 2019
The village of Kampong Phluk, built out on a floodplain and home to around 5,000 people, is a surreal sight in Cambodia's dry season. Metal shacks and basic houses perch six metres above ground, their wooden stilts naked and exposed. Fishing baskets hang redundant in mid-air. Flashes of rainbow laundry hang from walls of corrugated rust.
A church, marked only by its scarlet cross, stands as a beacon of hope. Slim tail boats are parked in front of houses, like cars in a driveway, ready to carry the residents to floating schools, community centres and temples.
Though the population here is mostly made up of fishing families, recent years of depleted stocks mean that many fishermen have had to shift careers, either turning to farming or steering the tourist boats through the waterways to supplement their incomes.
Our boat moves on through these people's up-and-down lives, a world away from our own. A woman cleans the fishing nets, getting them ready for the following day. Further along the bank, another child jumps over a rope, kicking up dust as she skips. A group of friends dribble a makeshift ball around the stilts.
From the brown water below us, a swimming teenager grins as we pass. This is their normal. We're the last ones out as the light fades, the other tourists long gone in search of the sunset.
With less of an audience, the banter starts. Boat owners spray each other with the muddy water, Khmer jokes fly between water and bank. The kids play on. Nobody has much here, but nobody's sad. Nobody's complaining. Suddenly, we're uncomfortable being comfortable. All we can think of is how easy we have it. How pampered are our lives? How little does the world owe us? How lucky are we?