The four of us arrived in Siem Reap on a Friday morning. After we had settled into our hotel, it was already too late to enter Angkor. On the recommendation of Lonely Planet Cambodia, we hired a cab (via Le Meridien Hotel) and arrived at the port for the floating village.
It's a new world to see. Tonle Sap hosts a myriad of water homes where its residences have built simple restaurants among the lilly pads, an elementary school with a caged basketball court attached, and a holy water church. My companions thought this was a spectacular part of Cambodia that cannot be missed.
However, if you have made plans to continue traveling to Battambang via slow boat, then I would suggest passing on this excursion for more temple exploration. The drowning forests and migrating birds are part of the six to eight hour journey.
Many people live on water. This was my first time seeing a community entirely on water like this. Unfortunately, water was muddy and smelled very badly; they seem to have poor hygiene. It could be because the lake's water level was low around this time of year--it was still the beginning of monsoon season.
"Hot, humid, muddy, and smelly" was my impression of this lake. Driving on a rough road for a long time to get to the lake and hot weather did not help. Many fish come from this lake....hmmm...
US$12/boat for the tour of the lake. Our guide arranged the boat for us in advance.
My driver recommended that I also see something of Cambodian life and he asked me if I would like to visit the floating village. A 30 minutes drive from Angkor Wat and one can jump right into Cambodian life. Water plays an important part in this country and most of the villages are always located close to a water source. To overcome flooding during the monsoon this village was built floating on the lake.
We are there during dry season (Early Mar'09) and thus making the trip there even longer as what I was told. We booked our trip (US$14/pax) from Mandalay Inn after hard negotiation. Another way of going there is via tuk-tuk & thereafter buying the boat ticket from the centralised ticketing booth not far after the Pnom Krom Hill temple.
You can see lotsa floating houses, floating school, mosque, churches & even floating basket ball courts! along the narrow Siem riep river, & thereafter at the river mouth 9km away. from the inland terminal. During wet season (Apr-Oct) the lake expanded 9km inland!! & those river floating houses became lake houses!!
You will be brought to a restaurant cum souvenir & crocodile floating farm. The food is nice but pricey to South East asia standard!! US$4/plate of fried rice..That's horrible!!
Picture showing the terminal during Dry season overlooking Phnom Krom Hill temple (Yes need angkor Pass!)
Since this tourist village has got a platform one can get an impressive view over the entire lake. It was impossible to see the end and it appeared as a large sea right in the middle of Cambodia. For most of the year the lake is fairly small, around one meter deep and with an area of 2,700 square km. During the monsoon season, however, the Tonle Sap river which connects the lake with the Mekong river reverses its flow. Water is pushed up from the Mekong into the lake, increasing its area to 16,000 square km and its depth to up to nine meters, flooding nearby fields and forests. Hence the translated name Great Lake - an impressive site!!
The best way to explore this village is by boat. My driver negotiated with a boat owner about a price. The rate I paid was around US$ 10 and I had the boat to myself. Though that neither the boat owner who took me out or the boat boy could speak any English or other language, conversation was a little problematic.
Where one would least expect it one finds it - a tourist village! Since I could not communicate with my "captain" I only realized where I was after he signalled to me that I could get off and have a look. This tourist village offers souvenirs, drinks and even light meals.
I felt a little bit sad after got there.Some children were chasing me for begging.I knew I couldn't give them anything to avoid more children gathering.Their eyes were looming their disappointed.It seems I went there to comsume their poverty to see how terrible they are.It is not my original purpose.But I changed my attitude.Not sympathize with them,Not judge them.They don't need my sympathy.I just saw how they live as any visitor goes to Taiwan to see how I live.Eventually,I was getting better.Their Life is interesting.All shops and houses are floating on the water.
somewhat of a surprise as i heard it was very tourisity,but the lake and flooded forrest is awesome and a highlight of our trip.we went with the recommended way in the lonely planets guide with the tara riverboat and opted for the full day tour including sunset,a guide picks you up from our guesthouse at 8am and heads directly to the lake ,stopped off at the environmental centre than onto the great lake,the actually cruise across the lake thats about 2 hours and than into small row boats/canoes into the flooded forrest,meals and drinks supplied free onboard the large riverboat,unlimited beers on the sunset was a nice way to finish off the day.
Its was a fun trip, and an eye opener to real cambodian lifestyle. This Cambodian Largest lake is the main source of water for centuries which also links to most temples and palaces during the Khmer empire.
A cruise on Tonle Sap Lake was a mix of emotion, watching cambodia children having fun on water, get to see floating houses and schools, hardwork fisherman, and several floating markets around the community. Journey out in the lake feels like cruise on the sea.
Click for How to get on board
Infrstructure in a different way. Everything can be found in this village including a floating school. Though during my visit it appeared to have been school holidays, since the school was closed. Not sure if they also have a school "boat"
This scene I thought for a moment that I was in Vietnam. Traders on little boats go from house to house to offer their goods. When I "spoke" to the boat owner he appeared to have said that a lot of Vietnamese came to this part of the world during the Vietnam war.
Just on the outside of the floating village one can find a fish farm that bring in revenue as well as food for the local inhabitants. I tried to ask what fish these were - but between the Cambodian translation nothing sensible came out. If someone knows what fish is farmed here let me know :-)
A nice and interesting trip is a boattrip on the Tonle Sap Lake to visite a Vietnamese Floating Village. A small boat will bring you to that part of the lake and there you can have a look on all the originallly Vietnamese people living in wooden houses, whigh are floating on the water by means of many bambou trees.
Not far from Siem Reap is Lake Tonle Sap. It is a shallow lake, where people go fishing and which they use as their road. Here can you see the local people fishing and trading.
When we did a boat tour on the lake the rain was pouring and we did not see much. But the rain was warm and we had a lot of fun!