Tonlé Sap Lake
Tonlé Sap Lake is a unique freshwater lake located about 17km outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia. Not only is it the largest freshwater lake in South-East Asia, but it also ranks as one of the most productive fishing lakes in the world. Plus, it has the added feature of Chong Khneas, a floating fishing village.
What to expect
Chong Khneas is made up of more than one hundred floating shanties. The people live a very primitive life, making the best of what they have. In the village, you can find a small floating basketball court, a floating church, and also one of the most famous elementary schools in Cambodia. Many children paddle to school in a little disk that they sit in, almost like a small saucer. Inside the school, young students get some instruction and practice learning to read and write. The students also help each other – I watched a young girl, maybe five years old, taking the writing hand of a younger student and guiding her hand motion to form written words in her notebook.
Tonlé Sap Lake has two rare qualities. First, the flow of the lake/river changes direction twice a year as the area that forms the lake expands and contracts with the seasons. During the dry season, from about mid-November to May, Tonlé Sap drains into the Mekong River in Phnom Penh. When the wet season rains begin in June, Tonlé Sap backs up and expands to form a gigantic lake. During winter, the lake is a meter deep and 3,000 square km. In contrast, when the water from the Mekong Delta reverses its flow and pushes towards the lake, it averages nine meters in depth and approximately 14,000 square km.
Tonlé Sap’s other feature is that it is home to hundreds of different species of birds and fish as well as otters, crocodiles, turtles, and many other animals that inhabit the brown, murky, waters of the mangrove forest.
How to get there
If you take a boat from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, you will go past the floating village and dock at Chong Khneas. Although this will not allow for a full viewing, you can get a decent glimpse. From Siam Reap, the easiest way to get to Chong Khneas is to take a taxi or tuk-tuk; we opted for the thirty-minute tuk-tuk ride to the river basin. From there, locals will be available to take you out to the floating fishing village from the docks. The ride up the tributary to Tonlé Lake and back takes a couple of hours.