TONLE SAP LAKE
When you want to have a break and escape the temples you can visit Tonlé Sap Lake (Boeung Tonle Sap) and the floating villages in Siem Reap. Tonlé Sap is the biggest freshwater lake in South East Asia.
Function of Tonlé Sap :
Tonlé Sap is crucial for the living of the Cambodians. The size of the lake depends on the season. During raining season (May-Oct) the Mekong river rises quickly and the water is poured into the Tonlé Sap lake. The depth of the lake can increase form the normal level 2m to 10m. At the end of the raining season (end of Oct) the level of the Mekong river starts to decrease and the current changes. Tonlé Sap flows the water back into the Mekong river and the lake will get back to its normal form. The lake helps to prevent the Mekong to overflow but depending on the raining season it isn't always sufficient. The Mekong river in Siem Reap tends to overflow atleast once a year. During dry season when the lake returns to it normal size fertile banks appear which are ideal for the grow of rice. Tonlé Sap is also one of the richest fishing lakes in the world. They say that Tonlé Sap can produce 10 ton fish per square kilometer and foresees 3/4 of the fish production in Cambodia. This is also the reason that when you visit it you will see many families with nets and baskets to catch the fish. The fishing season runs from February till May. The Tonlé Sap unique eco-system is protected by UNESCO since 1997.
Cambodia's floating villages :
There are three floating villages near Siem Reap which are worth to visit.
- Chong Khneas
- Kompong Phluk
- Kompong Khleang
You can find the Chong Khneas floating village at the foot of Phnom Krom. This is the most popular floating village as it is the easiest one to access. The best time to visit it is in the early morning or the late afternoon because of the sunlight and it can be combine with the sunset at Phnom Krom. You will spend around 2 hours on the lake. The people living in the floating village are Khmer but most of them are Vietnamese. You have floating markets, schools, clinic and churches in these villages. Even gasstations are foreseen.
The boat trip includes two stops. The first one is a very touristic souvenir shop. It should be normally a fish exhibition but not really many fish to watch. The other stop is the Gecko Environment Centre (jinja.aspara.org/gecko/, 8h30 - 17h00) which is an information centre about the Tonlé Sap lake and displays the lving of the people in the floating villages.
They will also ask if you want to visit the floating school but please be aware that they will first lead you to a shop to buy school supplies which they expect you to donate to the children of the school. Also it can be that at the moment of your visit no children are present at the school.
You can get a tuk tuk from Siem Reap to bring to the boat dock. It is around 15 km and the trip will take you around 20 minutes. Most of them will charge you around 4 or 5 dollars one way. A motodop will charge you around 1.5 to 2 dollars one way.
Previously you could ask a local fisherman to take you around in his boat on the lake but now the road and boats are in charge of a Korean Company. They will ask 20 dollars per person to visit the floating village. The local police is also around as security and they will stop you if you try to enter without a ticket of the company. If you book this trip in a travel agency you can get a deal of around 18 dollars which includes the tuk tuk.
Kompong Phluk (pronounced Kampong Phluk, Kampong means "village with pier" in Cambodian) doesn't see that many tourists as Chong Khneas but is definitly worth visiting. It exists out of three villages and is located 16 km away from Siem Reap. Most of the people living here are Khmer. The houses are built on stilts of around 6 or 7 meters high. Here you have the flooded forest which acts like a real mangrove. During dry season the trees and the houses rise above the water and give a special and memorable view to the villages. The people live primary of the shrimp harvest.
You can visit Kompong Phluk by taking a boat at the floating village Chong Kneas. Here you can arrange a boat for about 30 dollars (go and back). They will show you arround for 1 hour. You can also get there by road. Take the road to Roluos village (just off Route 6). A motodop or tuk tuk can bring you there for around 5 dollars. Than you will have to take a boat through the flooded forest. For this they will charge you around 7 dollars. The road is much better than before so more easily to access. Depending on the season, the time on the road or boat can be different.
If you don't want to arrange this trip yourself you can also ask your guesthouse or hotel to make the arrangements for you. Also the many tour operators in Siem Reap will be happy to help you.
Kompong Khleang (pronounced Kampong Khleang) is one of the the largest communities living on the lake. They live as all the other floating villages mainly of the fish and the flooded forest. It is more a town and is located 35 km out of Siem Reap. Not many tourists make the trip to Kompong Khleang but the once that do are amazed by the forest and the houses on the very high stilts. The stilts can be around 10 meters high. It is really unbelievable that during the wet season the water rises to only a few meters from the houses.
You can reach this town by taking a boat at the floating village Chong Khneas. Also here you can get there by road. You can drive to Damdek on National Route 6 and take a boat there. During dry season it is better to go by road because it can be that the boats can't reach the main villages.
You can ask your guesthouse or hotel to help you make arrangement to visit this floating village. Not many travel agencies offer this tour but you can check and get some information with adventures tour operators.
Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary :
On the Tonlé Sap lake Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary is one of three biospheres and is the one which is the aesiest access via Siem Reap. It is the ideal place for birdwatchers. You have a high range of special breeds in a small area. You will be able to watch rare species like the spot-billed Pelican and the huge Lesser. The best time the visit the bird santuary is during the dry season. The water is drying up and the birds will gather at a few places which makes it easier to watch them. All birdwatchers know that the best time to see the birds is the early morning or late afternoon.
You can visit the Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary by yourself but it will ask a lot of efforts. First you will have to take a moto, tuk tuk or taxi to the boat dock of Chong Khneas. Then you will have to charter a boat there to take you to the Prek Toal Environmental Research Station. They will charge you around 40-50 dollars (go and back). It will take around 1 hour to get there. Next you will have to pay an entrance fee of 20 dollars and 30 dollars if you want boat with a guide. For this price you will be able to visit the bird sanctuary for 1 hour. There is also the possibility to stay overnight.