Tonle Sap Lake, in Cambodia, is the largest freshwater lake in southwest Asia, with an area of 2700 km2, is an absolutely surreal place. It seems to have come straight out of a movie from another era. Or rather, when we get there, it looks like we got into a movie.
This seasonally flooded lake is connected to the Sangker River and the Tonle Sap River, which changes direction throughout the year. In the monsoon season, the Mekong River, where the Tonle Sap usually flows, sees its flow increase so that the flow of the latter, a smaller river, is reversed to flow northwards, flooding the lake.
Not surprisingly, such a vast body of water can assume such great importance in a poor country like Cambodia. The rich ecosystem, the abundance of fish and other resources attracted and set a population that has adapted to a life on the water.
When we got to the floating village and looked around we saw houses, shops, restaurants, among other things. Nothing seems to be missing except solid ground. Finding and visiting Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia was the biggest surprise of our trip, which had started a few weeks earlier in Thailand. The few days we had set aside for Siem Reap were scarse to plan more more than exploring Angkor Wat. That was our plan, and in spare time we could explore the outskirts of the city, see the genocide memorials and a dance show.
Tonle Sap Lake Tour
The day we went to visit the memorials we decided to continue following the road to explore the area. At some point something caught our attention. The road ended there, before a body of water, with a small pier from which old wooden boats were departing. We decided to take a peek, to know where they were going, when two young men approached us and offered usa boat tour.
We did not know which lake or river it was, nor were we aware of its size. As we processed old was the captain, and his first mate, and heard the crack of the floor board that collapsed with the weight of my foot, we knew it was going to be an immersive experience at the very least. The boat left port and entered a mangrove. We started to see fishermen in small boats but the surprise was the the floating houses, which even seemed to be inhabited.
Farther out of the mangrove throat we came across an endless stream of water reaching the horizon. Like that scenario, just the sea on a quiet day.
As we drifted away from the shores, boats with children and children in buckets, accompanied by snakes, began to emerge from the middle of nowhere to charge a dollar for a photograph. It’s a shock! I believe any westerner has a hard time understanding how a child can be alone, in a bowl, in mine in a freshwater ocean. A collision between realities, a “recoil” of humility for anyone who knows only the bourgeois dramas of the West. But travel is just that, a search for difference.
After gazing at the vastness of Tonle Sap Lake from a farther point of view, our young guides reversed the direction and took us to Chong Kneas, the floating village where there is everything. We saw restaurants, crocodile farms, craft shops, supermarkets and even “water world” dogs.
At that moment the “our jaw dropped again” when we realized that in fact people live there but, more than that, with a lifestyle that we did not imagine real. But there are some things that stand out. The number of children in bowl boats , the degraded appearance of the houses and the number of fish baskets on the left and right. But all these things denote a common tone, which cannot be camouflaged, poverty.
Unfortunately, with the pressure of growing tourism in Siem Reap, the lake has suffered environmentally, assimilating the waste of a growing population, exposing those living on the lake to disease. On the other hand, the village had been losing its authenticity as ir becomes more and more touristic. Despite everything, it stimulates the small economy a little.
How much does a Tonle Sap Lake Tour cost?
In our case, which wasn’t exactly a tour, we were four and rented a boat for around € 36. It is true that some years have passed and that price must have risen a little. But still, it should be cheaper than a tour bought on the net and paid up front. In this case, the tour options range from 30 € to 150 € per person. For example, on the getyourguide portal you have the following possibilities:
There are other tour options and early booking can prevent some last minute surprises. Like catching a boat with a non-English speaking freshwater sailor, queuing at the harbor or lack of boats. Early booking makes it easy to find the best options by rating and reviewing each tour. You can consult all of the options hereand if you happen to book via our link, you will be able to help Backpackers Bay without paying more for it.
How to get to the Floating Village Pier
The small port is 13 kilometers from Siam Reap and the journey takes about 15 minutes. We can go to negotiate the price and go to Tuktuk or, if we go bytaxithe price will be around 11 € (R $ 50). The bravest can also go by bike.