Experience Authentic Life At Tonle Sap Floating Villages
Many travellers may come to Siem Reap solely to visit the Angkor temples. But this historical city offers more attractions than the ancient ruins; one of them being Tonle Sap Lake. It is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and is the second most popular hotspot in Siem Reap, after Angkor Wat. Tonle Sap Lake is well-known for being one of the world’s most vibrant ecosystems. As it is home to a massive number of many different species of wildlife in and around the lake. Villagers live on floating villages on incredibly high stilt houses. Traveling through this stretch of water is an unforgettable experience! It’s a must-see spot of the country for sure.
There are actually several floating villages located on and around the lake, each of them has its distinctive characteristics. Visiting these places enables you to see a new and different way of life. The four main floating villages are listed below.
1. CHONG KHNEAS
About 16 km southeast of Siem Reap, Chong Kneas is the closest village to access, which makes it a easy day trip for tourists. This is the most famous fishermen village of the Vietnamese minority. They live in floating houses, which are regularly moved around according to water levels, thus Chong Kneas is really more like a “floating village”. Other buildings like church, elementary school, restaurant, police station, shop, basketball court,… are even on boats.
Unlike many popular floating markets in Thailand, Chong Kneas is not entirely souvenir shops and food vendors. Most of the villagers are still fishermen, so you can observe their activities. Everything, even a small errand is done on the water. They wash, bath, swim and fish for dinner. Of course, tourist spots are here, too. Usually tourist boats stop at a crocodile and catfish farm. It offers the opportunity to climb up to the rooftop and enjoy the view over the floating village. Although it may not be the most picturesque and somewhat more touristy, Chong Kneas is still interesting and worth seeing.
2. KAMPONG PHLUK
Located about 16 km of Siem Reap, Kampong Phluk consists of three villages of stilted houses built within the floodplain. There are 2 ways to reach the area: by boat from the Chong Khneas dock or by road in the dry season. Different from Chong Khneas, the main inhabitants of the village are Khmer. And only a few of tourists makes the journey to Kampong Phluk, which has helped it retain much of authenticity. You’ll see what traditional fishermen’s life is like over water – they are busy doing laundry, cooking or fishing on the wooden boats.
In addition, you can also take a small paddle boat into the mangroves to have a close look at this submerged forest. To end a day, you shouldn’t miss the stunning sunset view in the middle of Tonle Sap lake. The color is so intense when the sky changes from bright blue to luminescent orange.
3. KOMPONG KHLEANG
If you want to venture further, head on to Kampong Khleang which is around 35 km away from Siem Reap. Among the most visited villages at Tonle Sap lake, this is the furthest one. Therefore, it doesn’t have as many tourists as the villages above, which can be appealing if you want a more authentic experience and a more peaceful place.
The village’s population is 10 times that of Kampong Phluk, making it the largest community. There are both floating houses and fixed ones raised on 10m wooden stilts. Many of them are open, so you can see directly inside into the living rooms, which all have their unique family designs. For those who have never seen such things before, it is a truly mind-blowing experience.
A quiet tourist spot of Tonle Sap Lake, Mechrey is a floating village about 15km north of Chong Khneas, and also the entry point to the Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary. The village’s economy is based primarily in fishing, and quite a few farm crocodiles as well. In addition, you can witness floating pig farms, school, gardens, … There is also a fair bit of wild bird life in the area.
It’s often said that the journey is prettier than the destination when it comes to Mechrey. It’s because the road to the village offer a great photographic view. The best time to visit is in late afternoon, when the children come back from school. Floating around, they will smile to you and wave time to time. It’s also when the village is at its best in the sunset light.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT TONLE SAP LAKE
If you want to witness the enormous charm of Tonle Sap, you should visit this lake in the wet season from October to February. That’s when the water of the Mekong river becomes so powerful and the lake’s size increases to approximately 15,000 km² with a depth of 8m.