South East Asia's largest freshwater lake, Tonlé Sap, is home to floating villages, mangrove trees, crocodile farming and a large fishing industry. Located between Cambodia's capital city, Phnom Penh, and Siem Reap, Tonlé Sap Lake also provides an alternate means of transport between the two cities. During the monsoon season, the lake is backed up by the Mekong River's floodwater. The tourist industry hits it peak at the beginning of the dry season, when the lake is only beginning to shrink back down.
Travelers can grab a boat to visit the floating villages situated next to mangrove forests. One can switch to smaller boats rowed by a local woman (most of the time) and see the temporary village more intimately: dogs stretch out on the small patios, young children appear from nowhere and jump into the water, pigs and chicken stand on straw-covered floors situated only a few feet above the water. Some homes double as accommodation for the curious traveler.
On the last full moon between the end of October and beginning of November, locals and tourists gather for the Water Festival. Boat races and fireworks celebrate the change of water flow in Tonle Sap, which leaves the land fertile and productive. Dams built in China and possibly Laos in the upper Mekong River will have a huge impact for the future of Tonlé Sap Lake ecosystem.
Highlights from Tonlé Sap
- Visit the floating villages such as Kampong Phluk
- Enjoy the Water Festival on the last full moon of October-beginning of November
- For the extreme bird-watcher, take the difficult path to the Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary
- See the massive mangrove forests
- Check out the fishing industry or handicraft in the Kompong Luong floating village
Hints and Tips for Tonlé Sap
- Dry season can make traveling on the water more difficult because the lake shrinks down drastically. On the other hand, the floating villages are temporary and taken apart before the monsoons hit in the wet season, so check the seasonal details and what is best for the area you want to visit.
- If you are interested in bird watching, it is recommended to visit the Bird Sanctuary between December and April.
- As always, wear mosquito repellent. The mosies can attach themselves to clothing, boats, and other items.
- The water tends to be calm around the well-traveled tourist routes and villages, but be aware that Tonlé Sap Lake is home to various water snakes and crocodiles.
- If you want to take a closer look at the floating villages, you will be charged an additional small amount and urged to trip the woman rowing your boat.