A bounteous realm of agriculture during the rainy season, Tonlé Sap Lake is one of Cambodia’s most unique and mesmerising natural phenomenons. Stretching across the northwest of Cambodia, Tonlé Sap Lake is the largest freshwater supply throughout the whole of southeast Asia. The monsoon season here generally lasts from May until October, causing the Mekong Delta to overflow and fill the circumference of Tonlé Sap Lake, normally to a maximum depth of around 14 metres. Once the dry season begins in November, this flow is reversed back into the Mekong Delta, bringing the depth of the lake down to around 2 metres. This body of water is a mating ground for thousands of species of wildlife including over 300 varieties of fish and 100 bird species. Tonlé Sap Lake is also the home of thousands of otters, turtles, snakes and crocodiles.
The local community share a deep relationship with the lake as it is not only their home, but also their rice bowl. Roughly 90% of the population make their living from fishing as this rich commercial resource is responsible for providing more than half of the fish consumed throughout the country. The local Cambodians live in harmony with the unique ecosystems here and their way of life is deeply intertwined with the water cycle of Tonlé Sap Lake. Unfortunately the livelihoods of many of the local fisherman are being threatened by government authorities, who often award lucrative fishing concessions to financially endowed entrepreneurs. However due to the increase in tourism around several floating villages around Tonlé Sap Lake, a new and important source of revenue has been created.
There are numerous tours of Tonlé Sap Lake available and you can even construct your own itinerary if you wish. Some of these villages are slowly becoming commercialized, so although you may come across a few English speaking locals and be spoiled with souvenirs, the authenticity of Cambodia life is more apparent in the less popular localities.
The village of Prek Toal is very popular with outsiders and is home to several rare bird species including the Great Egret, Black Headed Ibis, Spot-billed Pelican and the Milky Stork. The famous bird sanctuary is located here and this is believed to be the most important breeding ground for endangered birds in Southeast Asia.
Visiting Khong Khneas is the best way to visit Tonlé Sap Lake if you are strapped for time as it’s the closest village to Siep Reep. This is one of the most touristy villages and will include stops to see numerous fisherman in action as well as a trip to the local gift shop. Your driver may also ask you if you would like to stop at a local orphanage or school, which is not recommended.
Kampong Khleang is the most remote of all the Tonlé Sap Lake villages and experiences little tourism. Nevertheless this villages offers you a real glimpse into the unique lifestyle of the inhabitants of Tonlé Sap Lake. Kampong Khleang is also the largest of these fishing villages and is home to roughly 30,000 people. A jungle of stilted houses which rise ten metres above the ground in the dry season, however it can be hard to get here. By the wet season, the stilts are submerged under the water and this village is generally more accessible.
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