Tonle Sap is the biggest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and covers an area of 2600 km² in the dry season to completely dominate the map of Cambodia. It is located about 17 km from Siem Reap and a great attraction on the Cambodia travel packages for tourists interested in seeing communities of floating villages that vary from the houses raised up on stilts (up to 10 meters) and boat houses. The lake with his murky brown water is home to a variety of fish, mangrove trees, and has crocodile farms in the local area.
A tour of Tonle Sap gives a perfect opportunity to appreciate the other side of Siem Reap with its floating villages, bird watching, nature tours and cultural tours.
Beyond exploring the famous temples, the traveller should not leave Siem Reap without taking a tour of this fascinating lake and its lakeside villages. The inhabitants of the floating and stilted houses are mostly fishermen and live in extremely basic conditions. There are floating houses, markets, churches, restaurants (Korean and Khmer dishes, souvenir shops, schools, a billiard house and a police station.
Each of the floating houses is built to easily accept up to 12 people (or single family), with over 100,000 Cambodians and mostly stateless ethnic Vietnamese living there.
For the most authentic tour of Tonle Sap Lake that continues to show the traditional local life, head to the village’s at Kompong Chnnang and Pursat that are based on the opposite side of the lake. With the increase in tourist activity in the area, there are certain floating villages (Chong Khneas) that are starting to take on a theme park like atmosphere, and best avoided by those that prefer the more authentic scene.
In addition to the floating villages, Tonle Sap is home to the Prek Toal Biosphere Reserve, which is a bird sanctuary that protects a variety of rare species, including the white winged ducks, greater adjutant storks and spot billed pelicans. If you are interested in exploring the bird sanctuary, it can easily be organized by a good tour operator that offers the Indochina tour packages.
How to get there
The Tonle Sap Lake it is easily reached on a river journey from Battambang and Phnom Penh, and docking at Chong Khneas which is about 12 km from Siem Reap. A two-hour tour of the lake and floating village, leaving from Chong Khneas can cost in the region of $20-$25.
The preferred time for travellers on the Cambodian tour packages to visit the lake is March or April. A reason to visit during this time is because the lake can start to shrink in size, which leads to the inhabitants moving further towards the centre of the lake. When the people living on the lake are closer to each other it is easier to get a real glimpse of daily life that takes place on the floating village.
Also, the rivers that flow into the lake start to become drier, including the Siem Reap River. When this starts to take place, the local people start to use the river banks to plant rice. Also, the lake is more accessible because roads near the lake can disappear and become unusable during the wet season.
During the wet season (May to October) life on the lake can change drastically with an increase in the water level and high waves which leads to the locals moving their homes closer to land, this means the tourists have a lot less of the floating village to see and explore.