Kampong Phluk village sits on the banks of Tonlé Sap Lake, the largest freshwater body in Southeast Asia. Water levels in the lake vary enormously between the dry season from roughly November to March and the rainy monsoon season from May to October. The Tonlé Sap River connects the lake to the Mekong River and water flows back and forth between the lake and the Mekong in a complex relationship determined by annual rains. The village is set on stilts to keep houses and other structures above the water line during the rainy flood season. I visited in late March when water levels are at their lowest. The woman on the stairs is bouncing back and forth – literally – between different levels of her house, apparently gathering the things needed to make lunch.
Between the north and south shores of the Bassac River as it flows by the city of Châu Đốc, there is a floating wholesale market every day. Ethnic Cham people who live on the north bank of the river bring fruits and vegetables from their farms to the market. Ethnic Vietnamese townspeople from Châu Đốc on the south side of the river buy produce for sale in land borne retail markets in the city.
The family in the photo is fishing in the Bassac River as is flows through Châu Đốc, a Vietnamese city of about 160,000 people on the country’s border with Cambodia. These are ethnic Cham people who live in a village built on the water – the houses in the photo are part of the village. For close to 1000 years Cham kingdoms controlled much of what is today central and southern Vietnam. As ethnic Vietnamese expanded south from the Red River area around Hanoi – the original home of Vietnamese civilization – there was both interaction and conflict between the Cham and the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese eventually prevailed, destroying the last Cham kingdom and assimilating the Cham people into the rather complicated ethnic mix that today makes up the population of modern Vietnam.