The Tonlé Sap Lake is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. During the dry season the lake drains into the Tonle Sap River which flows into the Mekong River. But in the rainy season (June to October), the huge amount of water in the Mekong causes the Tonlé Sap River to reverse its flow.
The combination of water flowing into the lake, and the backup of the Tonle Sap River swells the lake to 5-times its size in the dry season. This increase in size floods the surrounding floodplain and forests, creating an incredibly diverse and rich eco-system.
There are actually several so-called floating villages located on, and around the Tonle Sap Lake (Boeung Tonle Sap) and they are all somewhat different. The Tonle Sap Lake is the largest feature of the map of Cambodia, and is an important natural resource in terms of fishing and wetlands.
In the rainy season, the Mekong River backs up into the lake, and it swells to more than 5 times its size in the dry season, flooding the surrounding forests and plains. Of course the best time to visit ‘floating villages’ is during the wet season when the water is high. You can try a ‘do-it-yourself’ tour, but it can be a hassle, and there are stories of people having problems trying to do it themselves. The four main ‘floating’ villages are listed below.
The floating village nearest to Siem Reap, it is the one most visited by tourists. In the wet season, it really is a floating village, with houses, shops, schools, etc. all bobbing on the water. Even though it is somewhat ‘touristy’, it is still interesting, and worth seeing. Stops usually include a souvenir and snack shop, and the Gecko Environment Center.
This is not actually a floating village as the houses are built on tall stilts. In the dry season, the village is high and dry, with the tall stilted houses lining the road. When the water level is high, the stilts are submerged, and the houses seem to ‘float’. This is also the place where you can take boat rides through the flooded forest. It is visited by relatively few tourists. Home-stay is available.
Being far from Siem Reap, it takes about 2 hours by boat from the Phnom Krom boat landing. There is an outer floating village, and an inner tall stilted village. It has the largest population of all the villages on the lake. Visited by few tourists.
A somewhat smaller floating village, it is the starting point for bird watching tours to the Prek Toal core area of the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve. (see Bird Watching) This is an important habitat for many endangered bird species. There is a Biosphere information canter, and a water hyacinth weaving center. Overnight stay is possible, but is not well organized, and may not be suitable for all visitors.
The best time to see the lake is when the water level is high, and floating villages are truly floating, and trips to the flooded forest and wildlife reserves are interesting. Trips to the bird sanctuaries are best from December to April.
In the dry season, the lake becomes very shallow, and large boats sit on the bottom of the lake. During this time, villages on stilts are left high and dry, and floating villages move out onto the lake. Also, forests are dried up, and some bird sanctuaries cannot be reached.
Location: Near Siem Reap