Tonle Sap Lake is the largest fresh water lake in Southeast Asia. Its dimensions change, depending on the monsoon and the dry season. As a rich biosphere reserve recognized by UNESCO, its vast wettlands are home to more than 300 species of fresh water fishes, turtles, crocodiles, snakes, and other similar reptiles, as well as more than 100 different birds.
The lake is also an important commercial resource, providing more than half of the fish consumed in Cambodia. In harmony with Tonle Sap biological diversity, floating villages were established along the edges of the lake, that made fishing their main source of living. A few of them are easy to access from Siem Reap.
With only two nights to spend in the city, our time was very limited. From some earlier research, it looked like there were three floating villages which you can explore on a half day trip from Siem Reap, and Chong Khneas was the least favorable according to Trip Advisor reviews. However we ended up going there and I wanted to share few tips you might find useful. The receptionist at our boutique hotel- Pavilion d' Orient, advised us, due to time constraints, to visit the closest floating village, located just 15 km outside of Siem Reap. Furthermore, he explained that at present it was Cambodia's dry season, and the lake water level is quite low, which is another factor to consider when choosing which village to visit.
However, I have to say that our tuk-tuk driver and our guide from the private company, that managed access to the lake, completely transformed our experience! Late afternoon (4:30 pm-ish), we were picked up from the hotel and within 30 minutes we were at the Tonle Sap Lake ticket entrance. Our tuk-Tuk driver introduced us to our guide, who showed us where to pay the entrance fee. For $20 per person, we got a private boat, English- speaking guide and a boat driver. While waiting to go on board, throngs of Chinese tourists also embarked their boats - 20 people per boat.
Tip: If possible, get a tuk-tuk driver who works for/with your hotel. Our driver was included in the hotel rate and he connected us to a tour guide. It cost us a total of $40 cash only for us as a couple to get a private boat & guide, which is much less than the rates quoted in most TripAdvisor reviews.
On our way to the village, a drive which took roughly 20 min, our young guide who spoke some decent English shared with us stories about the life on the lake. The village itself was small, comprised of about dozen wooden houses floating over the lake. The first stop was the "local shop" where we were suggested to buy $50 bag of rice for the local children. After we politely refused the $50 bag, but donated for a $10 bag, we were taken to the local school. We had a chance to play with the children and say "Hi" to their teacher. It was a humbling experience to see that despite the poverty, children can still have a lot of fun. We choose not to stop to the crocodile farm and the tourist restaurant where the rest of the tourist boats were docked. Instead, we sailed back and enjoyed the sunset over Tonle Sap lake.
Travel Tip: Choose to visit Chong Kneas floating village if you have limited time (the entire tour was done in about 3 hours).
Travel Tip: Go during the week VS. the weekend
Travel Tip: Request a private boat - it will transform your experience
Travel Tip: Bring cash $ for the entrance fee & tips for the guide & boat driver
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