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Cambodia is a stunning place to visit for a variety of reasons, but one of the must-go places is certainly the Tonle Sap Lake. It’s a place that can only truly be seen and experienced by water and taking a private cruise on the mighty Mekong River is probably your best bet. But let’s put that aside for a moment, and take a look at what makes this place so worth visiting; the lake, and one of the things it’s most famous for – the floating villages.

Why Visit Tonle Sap Lake?

Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia.

Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia. Image by Haklao Chheuy from Pixabay.

This is probably your first question, and there are actually a couple of reasons why. The Tonle Sap Lake is Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake, and is one with a pretty great ecosystem, in and around the lake. We’re talking a lot of variety, and this is a fact that has been true ever since the Khmer Empire thrived upon these life-giving waters.

And aside from the fact that it’s over 250km in length and 100km across, there’s one more fascinating fact about it – the fact that they call it the “breathing lake”. During the rainy season, the Mekong reverses its flow due to the massive amount of water, and the lake fills up quite a bit.

Floating house boat on Tonle Sap Lake.

Floating house boat on Tonle Sap Lake. Image by igormattio from Pixabay

It’s the world’s single river and lake system that in a course of a year flows both ways. This makes it a phenomenon like no other, which is why a lot of people want to visit it. And, there’s a lot to see around the lake, too.

But since you can’t really see this process, because it goes on for a while before there is a noticeable difference, what’s interesting (and a must-see), are the floating villages. They’re home to over a million people, and all of them depend on the lake’s ecosystem in order to survive. So, below are a few you should add to your visiting list if you do intend on traveling to Cambodia. But before that …

When Is the Best Time to Visit?

Given the changing nature of the Tonle Sap Lake, not every moment is perfect for visiting. If you want to make the most of it, you should definitely visit during the rainy season. This is when you can enjoy a cruise, and this is when the lake is about five times its size due to the reversed flows. The ecosystem is as rich as it gets, and you have a lot of things to enjoy.

On the other hand, you could try visiting during the dry season, but you’ll probably be disappointed. The larger boats can’t really move, and the floating villages move towards the middle of the lake (yes, some of them are removable), making them more difficult to reach.

Prek Toal

This is a village that’s far from the most popular choices, but for certain people, it will be a great choice. We’re talking about those of you who enjoy birdwatching because Prek Toal is a starting point for anyone wanting to visit the Biosphere Reserve. The Biosphere Reserve is home to a variety of birds, some of which are endangered, and for that reason, bird lovers should certainly consider Prek Toal.

Kampong Phluk

Yes, it’s true that some will say “Kampong Phluk is not a floating village”. And yes, some of the houses are built on tall stilts and aren’t really floating. But Kampong Phluk is a pretty big village, made up of three neighborhoods, and the houses on the stilts are only in the inner village – the houses on the outskirts are floating. And when the water rises, during the rainy season, even the houses on stilts look like they’re floating.

You can visit during the rainy season if you’re cruising, or you can grab a tuk-tuk if you’re visiting during the dry season – the choice is yours. And it’s not just the village you can visit, too. It’s surrounded by flooded mangrove forests, and you can take a small boat with a guide and go visit them, too.

This Cambodian fisherman is sailing on the Tahas River. In the background the special stilt houses of Kampong Phluk is rising in the air.

This Cambodian fisherman is sailing on the Tahas River. In the background the special stilt houses of Kampong Phluk is rising in the air.Photo by Daniel Hansen on Unsplash

There’s nothing really special about Kampong Phluk, but what you’ll love is the atmosphere. Everyone is happy, everyone enjoys their life, and you can really see that walking down the streets. There are no tourist scams (something that’s surprisingly popular for Cambodia), and it’s overall a nice place to visit.

Chong Khneas

This is basically the go-to place for people who want to see everything floating villages have to offer, without visiting all of them, which is why it’s so popular as a tourist destination. That does come with a downside, though – the village is pretty crowded all around the year.

And this is especially true during the wet season when everything functions pretty normally compared to other places. You’ve got houses and schools, as well as shops (including souvenir shops) that you can visit if you want to take something home.

We should also mention the GECKO Environment Center, which is a floating environment center with a goal to promote environmental awareness. If you want to learn a bit more about Cambodia’s cultural and natural resources, it’s a great place to visit.


About the Author

Gloria Mabery is a passionate traveler who has given up trying to tame her nomadic streak. She’s been backpacking around the world for seven years, transforming her travel experiences into stories. As well, she works as a content writer, mostly administering her interest in digital marketing. Gloria is also a musician, occasionally performing as a busker, wherever she sets foot. Currently, Gloria lives in Bogota, Colombia.

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About the Photo

The photo in the header above is of the village of Kampong Phluk, which has both houses on stilts (pictured), as well as floating houses. Image by Sharon Ang from Pixabay

About the Author

Gloria Mabery is a backpacking travel writer exploring the world.

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Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia, Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake.

Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia, Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake.

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