The Great Lake of Tonle Sap and Floating Village is the largest freshwater lake in the entire of South East Asia and they are ecological water wonders in the world. It is unique in 2 areas, firstly the flow of the water direction changes twice a year (basically between Tonle Sap lake and Mekong River) and secondly, the lake expands and shrinks dramatically in size (up to 5 times the actual size) according to the seasonal change. So, it sort of guarantees a different sight each time you visit the lake.
The Tonle Sap River is connected to the lake with Mekong River. With the seasonal change of the water level, the people who live on the lake will have to move their houses away when the water level fall. The entire floating village including schools, shops, churches, market and farms are getting pulled away to a place where the water is high enough to float.
The lake was awarded as a UNESCO site for Man and Biosphere Programme in 1997. My buddy Melano joined me on this trip to Cambodia and to be honest, we weren’t very impressed, probably due to the guilt tripping pressure and those “take pity on me” stories from the people there. However, in my opinion, it is definitely something you shouldn’t miss if you are in Cambodia. Every place has it’s uniqueness and definitely some take back.
Way to Tonle Sap Floating Village by Tuk Tuk
The Tonle Sap and the floating villages can be accessed from Siem Reap, another beautiful city of Cambodia! My recommendation for you is to hire a local Tuk Tuk to get to the floating village. En-route you will see how the locals live their life and definitely a life-time experience to see the beautiful mud river and rice padi fields!
At the beginning of the dry season is the start of the rice season as well, which is the only source of wealth for peasants in Siem Reap. A good harvest will provide enough rice for them to survive through the entire year, but if the floods are too big or water is too dry, will affect the harvest of rice and due to it’s scarcity, life can be badly affected. Because of this uncontrollable instability which can be affected by weather and other aspects, many celebrations are held in honor of the gods and saints to pray for a good harvest.
Tonle Sap Lake Jetty
Once you arrived the Tonle Sap Lake Jetty, you could jump into a 2 hours boat ferry tour to see the floating village. For just $15 USD, per boat you could have the entire boat by yourself and with a guide and a coxswain throughout the 2 hours boat ride. You will have a glimpse of the river life, see the fishermen, floating school, basketball court, churches and many more.
We went past the floating village with it’s charmingly stilted houses and really got to see some of what life is all about for the people living there in Cambodia. It was like another side of the world we are used to. No concrete jungles but just deep forests and brown water river filled with many friendly people and children. We waved at kids swimming and old people relaxing in the shade, and enjoyed the sights and sounds of their lifestyle, before we came out onto the lake itself.
Khmer or Vietnamese Floating Households
Initially, I felt I was kinda of intruding other people’s privacy. As we go along, I think perhaps the people have already used to have visitors everyday. So the locals just continue and carry on with their lives and same goes with the tourist on the boat! LOL
Floating Basketball Court
How about playing a few rounds of basketball for the NBA wannabes! haha
Floating Community Drinking Water Station
The safe drinking water station for the people in Tonle Sap.
Floating Church & Temple
A place to worship? Try visiting the floating church or temple. I wonder how many people can this church and temple accommodate? hmm
The school has only a few classrooms. With many kids running around, I assumed the children were having their recess time!
Forgot to buy something? There are no Walmart, Woolworth or NTUC in Tonle Sap… haha. You can follow the locals, who simply run their errands with the boat as their transport and get to such floating market or floating stores to buy their groceries.
Floating Crocodile Farm
This place is a little random and weird. They took us to a so call “Crocodile farm” with heaps of pathetic looking crocodile lying there and worse of all, there were few kids running around with a real python snakes! Not one or two, but many kids came up to me with different pythons wanting me to take a picture of them with the pythons. Of course, you gotta pay if you wish to take a picture! Oh god, I was apprehensive about the kids playing with the pythons. I was also very disgusted with the fact that these pitiful kids were being manipulated by “someone”, and seek sympathy from the tourist! Didn’t really enjoy the feeling when I was there.
According to my guide, supposedly the “orphanage” there holds about 150 children. Somehow, after we have been tricked into buying a $50 USD bag of rice, we only get to see perhaps 50 kids thereabout, who just sit there doing nothing. Well, not because I would like to see many poor children at the Orphanage. Somehow, the vibe doesn’t seems right for me. The only genuine thing I could sense from this episode are the playfulness of the kids. Other than that, it seems like all these were just a fake orphanage, fake children, fake principal, and just a massive scam to steal our money.
BUT STILL, I willing to donate that $50 USD even though I felt it was like a scam. Basically, these poor children still needs education and food. I told myself I could merely do my little part for being “scammed” by them but in my heart, I sincerely prayed for the poor little kids in Cambodia.
Towards the end of the tour, the coxswain decided to let me sail the boat! It was actually as easy and straight forward as the car. I actually did enjoy driving the boat. It was kinda cool. Pretty simple as driving a car. acceleration, brake, with power steering haha. If you have a license, you can be a boat captain or coxswain as well.
After all, by looking at the blue sky and the yellowish freshwater formed a beautiful photo at the end, I felt a moment of tranquility in my mind. That’s something money can’t buy, and it all worth it, even though I had a feeling of being scammed by the locals! haha Whether to visit the Tonle Sap Lake, is up to individual. In my opinion, doesn’t mean we have to win everytime right? haha It is still worth visiting, but get prepared to get scammed and feeling awful about the people and children there.
“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” ― Mahatma Gandhi