• River Wetlands

Chhnok Tru-dren: The Uncharted Future of Chhnok Tru

Updated: Dec 27, 2020

ABOUT | Life in the floating village of Chhnok Tru seems literally adrift. The children have capability to stay afloat and grapple with everyday uncertainties, while facing the fluctuation of the water level. Yet, it is uncertain where the water of the Tonle Sap Lake will take the youth in future. This article uncovers their hopes and struggles.

Team members:  
Daniel Tan Li Xian, Teoh Jun Yi, Sem Ratha, Lab Sot Ny


For people living on the seasonally inundated Tonle Sap Lake, the significance of learning is immense. Unlike the easy access to schools in our city-state of Singapore, getting to schools in this floating village is no easy feat. Children have to rely on school boats, as they are unable to arrive at schools on foot during the wet season. Our field study has made us rethink about the taken-for-granted educational opportunity.

Students are on their way back home by a school boat after a full day of learning at a local Catholic school.

Schooling there is coterminous with brighter futures, as it fosters the youth’s learning ambition and hopes. The children in Chhnok Tru demonstrate utmost dedication to, and undying enthusiasm for, knowledge acquisition, and they set a clear vision of what they want to be. Phalika, a 6-year-old girl, said, “I like going to school the most. And I like Khmer language classes the most”. When asked about what changes she wants to see in this floating community, Phalika replied without any hesitation, “I want more English schools”.

Phalika, a 6-year-old girl, envisions herself to be either a doctor or an English language teacher in the future. Looking forward to a new semester of school to come, Phalika sang her favorite Alphabet song for us.

Contrary to the commonly-held belief that rural villagers embrace a ‘provincial’ viewpoint about limited roles of girls and women, boys and girls in Chhnok Tru do get equal chances of schooling and freely express what they want to become in the future. During our convivial encounter with a 18-year-old girl, Touch Chakrya, she told us that she enjoys planning activities outside the school curriculum hours and wants to become a policewoman upon her graduation from high school.

Touch Chakrya, an 18-year-old girl, dreams about becoming a policewoman of Chhnok Tru as she feels that serving her community is her duty.


Apart from the physical space for dwelling, their home serves as a place for emotional attachment and belonging. Their home is also situated in the larger interactive space of a community where people and knowledge migrate and interact. So, we wonder: do the children have a strong sense of belonging to their home and foresee the seasonally fleeting community as part of their everyday life in the future? As we chatted with more youths, we have come to realise that, while education propels the aspirations of the Chhnok Tru-dren, it also shapes desires for their future relocations from the village.

Chea Mana, an 8-year-old girl, for example, enjoys learning, but she dislikes traveling to school via boats. She imagines that living on land allows greater mobility and freedom.

Chea Mana, a 8-year-old girl, attends a Catholic school. Her dream is to live and work as a doctor on land, as she dislikes traveling on boats.

The older generation shares the same sentiment too: Mdm Leng Hi, Chea Mana’s grandmother, does not want her grandchildren to live in Chhnok Tru due to uncertain land ownership and house-building difficulty. Similarly, Naroth, Phalika’s father, opines that, because of unpredictable climatic conditions, it would be better for her not to remain in the village. He said that he would do his best to send her abroad for her future studies.

At the same time, we see the youth having an inner tension over leaving Chhnok Tru; they have lingering undercurrents of attachment to their home – families and friends. Both Vanti, a 18-year-old boy and Tou Sokheam, a 12-year-old girl, do enjoy residing in the village, as they have long built affective bonds between themselves and the village  – what is called as topophilia[1]. Yet, they do not foresee themselves having their own families there. Perhaps, it is the aspiration of Touch Chakrya and her love for the floating community that will aid in preserving the vitality of Chhnok Tru.

Upon the graduation from his high school that operates on water, Vanti, a 18-year-old boy, plans to live on land and pursues higher education in the IT field,

Tou Sokheam, a 12-year-old girl, beams as she talks about her dream. She enjoys living in Chhnok Tru because she has many friends there.


The young people of Chhnok Tru today have big hopes for the future. For many of them, however, the floating community where they grew up is not captured as part of their visions; they rather pursue their dreams elsewhere on land. Literally, the future of Chhnok Tru resides in uncharted waters.



  1. Tuan, Yi-Fu. 1974. Topophilia: a Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and Values. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.