Tonle Sap Lake in Siem Reap

Everything You Need to Know About Tonlé Sap

    Tonle Sap Lake is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. Also called Boeung Tonle Sap, it has one of the world’s most vibrant ecosystems. There are different species of wildlife in and around the lake, which helped to sustain and grow the ancient Khmer civilisation. It's also famous for its fascinating local communities and their floating villages.

    Located in Siem Reap, the massive lake is 250 km in length and 100 km across at its widest point, making it seem like an inland ocean because it is impossible to see the opposite shore from ground level. Surprisingly, it's fairly shallow, with a maximum depth of only 10 metres.

    Tonle Sap floating villages

    There are several so-called floating villages in and around Tonle Sap Lake and they are all somewhat different. Naturally, many of these villages depend on the lake for the natural resources it provides.

    You can book a tour of the area, which usually includes roundtrip transport, lunch and plenty of opportunities to interact with the locals. 

    photo by Fumihiko Ueno (CC BY 3.0) modified

    Chong Khneas
    Chong Khneas is one of the most visited floating villages in Tonle Sap Lake. During the wet season, it offers a nice scene of houses, shops, schools bobbing on the water. While it's somewhat touristy, Chong Khneas is still interesting and worth seeing. Tours usually include a stop at a souvenir and snack shop, as well as the Gecko Environment Center.

    Kampong Khleang

    Being far from Siem Reap, it takes about 2 hours by boat from the Phnom Krom boat landing to reach here. There is an outer floating village and an inner stilted village. Kampong Khleang has the largest population of all the villages on Tonle Sap Lake and its remote location means that it receives fairly few tourists.

    Kampong Phluk
    Kampong Phluk isn't really a 'floating village' as the houses are built on tall stilts. During the dry season, the village is high and dry, with the tall stilted houses lining the road. When the water level is high, these stilts are submerged. This is also where you can enjoy boat rides through the flooded forest. 

    Prek Toal

    A somewhat small floating village in Tonle Sap, Prek Toal is the starting point for birdwatching tours to the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve. This is an important habitat for many endangered birds. There is a biosphere information centre and a water hyacinth weaving centre. 

    Best time to visit Tonle Sap Lake

    The best time to visit Tonle Sap Lake is during the rainy season (June to October). Water in the Mekong causes the Tonlé Sap River to reverse its flow which, combined with with the extra water from upstream, means that the lake grows to 5 times its size in the dry season. The surrounding plains and forests overflow, creating a diverse and rich ecosystem. It's also when you can arrange for boat trips to Tonle Sap's many floating villages. Trips to the bird sanctuaries are best from December to April.

    During the dry season, the Tonle Sap Lake drains into the Tonle Sap River, which flows into the Mekong River. The lake becomes very shallow and large boats sit on the bottom. During this time, floating villages move further out onto the middle of the lake. The surrounding forests dry up and some bird sanctuaries cannot be reached.

    photo by Anandajoti (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    Tonle Sap Lake in Siem Reap

    Location: Siem Reap, Cambodia

    Penny Wong | Compulsive Traveller

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