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The Floating Villages on the Tonle Sap Lake – Cambodia

Visit one of Cambodia’s top tourist destinations.

Cambodia boat woman

If ever you’ve considered going on a trip to Cambodia, you’ve probably heard of Tonle Sap Lake. It’s known as the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, and it has an incredibly vibrant ecosystem. Both in and around the lake you have various species of wildlife – something that’s been true ever since the ancient Khmer civilization.

The lake is located in Siem Reap, and goes over 250km in length and over 100km across, at the widest point. This results in you not being able to see the opposite shore if you’re on ground level, which makes it seem more like an inland ocean than a lake, actually. It’s really shallow, though, as the maximum depth is only about 10 meters.

But that’s not the most fascinating thing about the Tonle Sap Lake. That honor goes to the fact that on and around the lake, you have multiple floating villages that are home to more than one million people.  And most, if not all of those villages depend on the lake and the resources they can get from it in order to survive.

Chong Khneas

When it comes to all the floating villages, Chong Khneas is probably the one that’s most commonly visited by people who want to experience a floating village. The reason is simple, you can experience pretty much everything floating villages have to offer there.

Come the wet season, you’re looking at a scene of various houses, shops, and even schools that function pretty much normally. If you go on a tour, you’ll probably stop at one of the souvenir shops, so you can get something to take back home, and you should also visit the Gecko Environment Center.

The only potential downside about Chong Khneas is the fact that it has more or less turned into a tourist place, and if you’re all about visiting nature, you might not love it that much. But on the other hand, it’s still an interesting place that’s definitely worth seeing. But if you’d rather go for something a bit less touristy …

Kampong Khleang

Technically, some may say that Kampong Khleang isn’t entirely a floating village. The reason is because some houses are built on tall stilts, and technically, aren’t floating. However, this only applies to the inner village. Yes, Kampong Khleang is rather large. On the outskirts, you do have floating houses.

What is characteristic about it is that it has the largest population out of any village on the Tonle Sap Lake. The stilted houses are convenient for some, but others who prefer the floating house experience stay on the outside.

Why is it a bit less touristy? Because you’ll need about two hours with a boat to get from the Phnom Krom boat landing to the village. This results in not a lot of people visiting it, and you’ll get a rather authentic experience if you visit.

Prek Toal

One of the smaller villages on the lake, Prek Toal still has a lot to visit. But what it’s arguably most popular for is the fact that it serves as a starting point if you’re going to the Biosphere Reserve on the Tonle Sap Lake. This is a very popular place for bird watching because it’s home to a lot of endangered birds.

On the flip side, if you aren’t big into bird watching, Prek Toal doesn’t have too much else to offer. The village itself is pretty small, and it’s not really tourist-oriented.


When Should You Visit?

While some might say that you can visit the floating villages at any time during the year, it’s actually best if you do so during the rainy season. This happens from June to October, and during this period, the water in the Mekong River causes the Tonle Sap River to reverse the flow. Combined with the water from upstream, the lake grows to be as much as five times its size. This results in the plains and forests that surround it to overflow, and the entire ecosystem is as rich as it gets. In this period, you can grab a boat and visit the floating villages to make the most of it.

If you decide to visit during the dry season, you’ll find that the lake is very, very shallow. Larger boats can’t move and instead sit on the bottom, which somewhat blocks tourists from visiting. The floating villages in this case move towards the middle of the lake, and the surrounding forests have pretty much dried up. Some of the bird sanctuaries we mentioned earlier can’t be reached due to this reason, which is another big downside.

Anyone who truly wants to experience the floating villages, should absolutely do so during the rainy season. There’s a lot you can see, and you’ll love every minute of it!


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