Tonlé Sap is also known as “Bien Ho” or “Great Lake” by the Vietnamese which refers to the huge size of the lake that no one can see its shore in the other side. This is considered an attractive seasonally inundated eco-tourism area of Siem Reap province. Besides visiting the magnificent temples in Siem Reap, let’s take some time to explore the Cambodian Tonlé Sap lake with its vast clear water, beautiful houses, and cool greenery.
Tonlé Sap village viewed from above (Pinterest.com)
Special geological location
Tonlé Sap means "big freshwater river" which is a combination of large lake and river in Siem Reap province, just 25 kilometers from Siem Reap center, taking about 30 minutes by car from the city. The river plays a necessary role to Cambodia. It is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and was declared by the UNESCO as the World Biosphere Reserve in 1997.
The lake is very big, changing into different shapes according to two seasons: dry and rainy seasons. In dry season from November to April, Tonlé Sap lake is quite narrow and shallow with an average depth of only 1 meter and an area of 2,700 square kilometers. When the rainy season from May to October comes, the lake is fulfilled by water, about 9 meters deep and about 16,000 square kilometers wide, creating favorable conditions for many fish species to reproduce and grow.
The lake is also known as the largest freshwater fish source in Mekong river, providing freshwater fish for 3 million inhabitants of Tonlé Sap and 75% consumption of freshwater fish of Cambodian people. Tonlé Sap is not only important in Cambodia, but also in Vietnam as it supplies water in dry season and avoids floods in rainy season in the Mekong Delta.
The wild life in Prek Toal bird reserve (Pinterest.com)
Traditional local life
Tonlé Sap lake is home to many Vietnamese communities and Cham people live on floating houses along the lakeside. The life of the residents here is still quite hard and difficult. People live mainly by fishing, trading on busy boats for tourists to visit and buy fish.
The Tonlé Sap residents in the floating villages live harmoniously with nature and with each other. The beautiful and close houses, schools, churches, pagodas, etc, are really unique, attracting many foreign visitors to explore. Some famous floating villages are Chong Khneas, Kampong Phluk, Kampong Khleang, Prek Toal.
Today, Tonlé Sap lake of Cambodia is not only a great source of fishery profits for Cambodian people, but also a potential tourism area that is invested by local government to develop many types of tourist attractions such as sightseeing Tonlé Sap on boat, visiting the beautiful and peaceful floating villages, exploring the rare bird in Prek Toal reserve, and experiencing homestay tourism, etc.
An unforgettable night on a floating homestay on Tonlé Sap lake
Boat tour on Tonlé Sap lake
During the rainy season from April to October, the lake becomes much larger. There are many floating houses of people living in area next to the lake and on the lake. At present, many boat tours on the lake have been organized for visitors as an incentive strategy for tourism here. Sitting on the wooden boat to admire the vast and peaceful Tonlé Sap lake is an opportunity for travelers to enjoy the dreaming scenery of the vast space of water, green trees and to understand more about the life of people here.
Floating villages on Tonlé Sap lake
People here live as a community, creating floating villages that are very attractive to Western visitors. Life in the floating villages is quite busy with the ships carrying all kinds of items to sell to each house, moving between the winding "streets". At present, services in Tonlé Sap are gradually developing. Some humanitarian organizations donate money to build schools, churches, and pagodas. There are a number of small-scale ecotourism with fresh specialties served in the heart of the lake.
People trade on the river
Prek Toal bird reserve
Prek Toal bird reserve covers an area of 31,282 hectares, located in the northwest head of Tonlé Sap lake. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations near the Cambodian lake. In Prek Toal, tourists will have chance to approach and see the rare, endangered birds such as milky stork, gray-footed pelican, black-necked stork, gray-headed fish eagle, etc.
After exploring the tourist attractions near the lake, visitors can stay in the homestays of the floating villages like Kampong Khleang and Prek Toal. This is a great opportunity to experience the feeling of living on the floating house on the river, joining in the night life of the fishing community, visiting the villages, schools, pagodas, meeting local people, and enjoying the delicious Cambodian specialties made from fish.
A must-visit place in a Cambodia tour
The green mangrove forests surrounding the floating villages are one of the characteristics visitors should not miss when exploring Tonlé Sap lake. Tourists will sit in a wooden boat, drift around the mangroves, and immerse themselves in the peaceful and cool space of the forest on a river.
Hidden in Tonlé Sap lake is the rich cultural and natural value that has attracted numerous foreign visitors in the world. This is definitely a tourist spot that you should experience for the best Cambodia tours. If you need more information for your tours of Asia, don’t hesitate to contact us. Thank you.