Stretching from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, the Tonlé Sap lake is a vast flooded area connected to the Mekong by the Tonlé Sap river, which during rainy season has its water increasing so much that becomes the largest lake in all Southeast Asia. Definitely worth a visit to observe the traditional lifestyle of its inhabitants, especially one of our favourite spots there, the Kampong Khleang floating village!
Relaxed life on the lake…
During the dry season Tonlé Sap’s water level can be 10 meters lower than during the peak monsoons, making an interesting sight exploring its many floating villages and communities with their houses built on stilts. One of them, Kampong Phluk, is already very much exploited by tourism and is being quite talked about in terms of scams (such as asking 40 dollars in a so-called entrance both in the village) and Chnong Khneas, the community in the part of the lake nearest to Siem Reap, is more like a tourist trap and profitable business for the boat and tour companies there than an interesting site to visit and a way to help the local community (typically the money don’t go much to the locals…)
Smiley kids on the entrance stairs of a local house.
But for the real thing, you can head to Kampong Khleang, a more authentic and less touristic village situated around 50 km from Siem Reap, around one hour by road or, if you are traveling along the Siem Reap-Phnom Penh highway, you can ask to be dropped off the bus on Dandek town, already quite near to the border of the lake and an easy place to find a tuk-tuk from there. This community is the largest one in the lake (around 10 times bigger than Kampong Phluk, for instance) and it’s the perfect place for observing the traditional life in Tonlé Sap. This lake is responsible for some of the main livelihoods in Cambodia, fishing and fish farming, and the fish caught here are the biggest source of protein in Cambodian diet and food culture. So don’t forget to eat some while you are there!
General view of Kampong Khleang during the dry season and from one of its streets.
You can explore the village by boat or foot depending on the season you go, and especially if you are going in the dry season you will be able to catch quite an impressive sight with all the houses built on 10 meter height stilts. From there you can take a boat tour with a local driver to go to a more central location of the lake where you will find other communities living in floating houses, lots of fishermen in their boats and even floating schools for their kids!
View while taking a boat trip along the main canal that leads Kampong Khleang to the larger lake.
It’s an ideal day trip from Siem Reap or, even better, to stay for a night or two in order to fully experience the village and its surroundings. There is at least one Homestay and restaurant in the community, a lovely wooden house refurbished in a stylist way, making it a great way to immerse yourself in the community while helping a local family. From there you can walk around and meet friendly locals, visit the market or the pagoda, enjoy a beautiful sunset by the lake and relax in a rural and authentic setting.
Sleeping a couple of nights in this cute house seems quite a welcoming experience.
If you are looking to mingle with the locals and experience the typical lifestyle of Cambodian people, the Kampong Khleang floating village will be a great addition to your trip, and an interesting way to explore the Tonlé Sap, the largest lake in all Southeast Asia. Have a look in the Camboticket website to know how to go there from Phnom Penh or Siem Reap, and don’t forget to ask the driver to be dropped off in Damdek, from there is just a short ride to the village. And share your pictures by the lake with us!