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Tonle Sap Lake, Siem Reap Overview

The Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia, near Siem Reap in Cambodia. Stretching from Angkor Wat to Phnom Penh. it is known for its rich ecosystem and many floating villages. You can go on a day trip from Siem Reap to some of the floating villages located on Tonle Sap, where you can see the villagers' unique life amidst a vibrant landscape.

Located in the lower Mekong Basin, Tonle Sap is a part of the Tonle Sap river formed from the Mekong river. Known popularly as the 'Great Lake,' its varying size is a beautiful phenomenon. The lake swells to become one of the largest in Asia, spreading for over 10,000 square kilometers in the wet season and submerging forests around. And during the dry season, it shrinks drastically, reducing to just 3000 square kilometers, which brings the dense forests above the water, making the land fertile. This vast lake serves as a home to more than 1.2 million people along with being the source of food and livelihood.

Tonle Sap Lake Highlights

1. Kompong Khleang Floating Village

Kompong Khleang Floating Village
Kompong Khleang is one of the three floating villages located on Tonle Sap. Home to more than 20,000 people living in stilted houses, it is the most populous and advanced among all the settlements on (Read More)Tonle Sap. The unique thing about this village is that depending on the season you visit, you can see the town floating on water connected by boats or a remote town on land amidst a dense jungle with muddy roads.

2. Kampong Phluk Floating Village

Kampong Phluk Floating Village
Kampong Phluk is one of the floating villages on Tonle Sap. It is bigger than the touristic Chong Kneas and has three neighborhoods, a market, a few official buildings, and houses. If you ta (Read More)ke a guided boat tour, you can get a chance to visit the houses of locals and shop in the little floating markets where you can buy traditional products.

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Best Time To Visit Tonle Sap Lake

The best time to visit Tonle Sap is between November to April, when the water level declines to allow boat tours through which you can get to explore the life in these settlements. Depending on when you visit, you can get to see different versions of Tonle Sap. Between June to October, the region receives heavy rain submerging the river bed along with the forests. You can get to see the floating villages, but the boat trips may not be possible.

Tonle Sap facts

  • The lake has been inhabited since the 14th century. Historians believe that the Angkor civilisation sustained because of Tonle Sap's fertile ecosystem, making it the most massive pre-industrial settlement. In 1997 the lake was designated as a designated UNESCO biosphere.
  • Tonle Sap biosphere is home to some of the rarest species in the world. Over 300 species of rare fishes including the endangered Mekong giant Catfish are found in the lake. The reserve forest has rich biodiversity of birds and animals including various types of turtles and snakes.
  • Tonle Sap is where the critically endangered Siamese crocodiles are raised in captivity for their skin, which is a massive industry in this area.
  • Bon Om Touk, one of the biggest water festivals in Cambodia happens at Tonle Sap. This 3-day festival attracts people from all over the country during which the lake bed turns thoroughly festive.
  • You can travel through the Tonle Sap between Siam Reap and Pnomh Penh via slow boats that take a few days, which makes you through the best of Cambodia's flora and fauna. Express boats take about 6 hours for the same journey.

Tonle Sap Tour & Places to Visit

  • Chong Khneas - The tourists can visit some of the settlements in Tonle Sap along with the biosphere area. The most popular among the villages is Chong Khneas. Located just about 15km from Siem Reap, it is easy to reach as well. But the village is very touristic and has lost its authenticity, thanks to government commercialising the town to lure tourists. You might feel rushed through boat tours which are quick and will not let you experience the place.
  • Kompong Phluk - The other villages are worth visiting although they are far and a bit difficult to reach. One of them is Kompong Phluk, a Khmer village consisting of stilted houses and buildings. It is bigger than Chong Khneas, and more beautiful and less touristy, making it an ideal option for a day trip from Siem Reap.
  • Kompong Khleang - If you are looking for a unique experience for a day trip, head to Kompong Khleang. It is the largest of all the settlements in the Tonle Sap region. You can take private boat tours as well to explore through canals and get glimpses of the unique ways of life of these villagers.
Apart from these, you can explore the other smaller settlements in Tonle Sap like Kompong Luong, Phnom Dak Preah, Preah Theat and Koh Sampeou Meas. All of these day trips will let you experience the stunning sunset on the vast Tonle Sap lake, taking you through the wilderness and remote life cut off from modern life.

How to reach Tonle Sap lake

Tonle Sap and all of its attractions can be reached from Siem Reap by renting a tuk-tuk and then opting for boat trips. Depending on the village you want to visit, the time to arrive from Siem Reap varies between 30 minutes to 2.5 hours by road. Add another 2 hours to explore the biosphere and a few settlements. It takes about 50 USD in total per person for a group trip and more for private tours.

Tonle Sap tour tips

  • Check the weather before planning a visit to Tonle Sap and its various villages or bird park. It is not the same experiences throughout the year and also during the peak seasons, tours get booked quickly. So it is essential to plan.
  • As mentioned above, pick the village tours after careful research. These days, it is best almost to skip Chong Khneas village tour altogether. If you experience the genuine local life in the settlements, plan a day trip to other villages. They are worth your time although there might be a bit of travel.
  • Watch out for different types of scams that are frequent. Seeking money for donations, overcharging tours, short commercial tours where you'll end up paying the locals for food, clothes and other things are common here.

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