This large lake is a prominent feature on maps of Cambodia. Its water levels and volume change dramatically from the wet to dry seasons, filled and drained by the ebb and flow of the Tonle Sap River and its confluence with the mighty Mekong. The size of the lake swells to nearly 5 times its dry season size during the rainy season. We went here based on the recommendation of our AirBNB host, Thony, and it’s unique ecosystem and water culture were a complete surprise to Sheri and me. The lake is only 15 km. from Siem Reap, but the roads are only partially paved and took 45 minutes to get there in our tuk-tuk. Our driver brought us to a harbor late in the afternoon where we bought our $20 tickets per person and proceeded to our boat. We later found out that this price is negotiable depending on the boat operator. The boat launch reminded me of our trip up the Little Yangtze River in China; lots of boats trying to dock somewhere that could barely accommodate them all.
Since we were there during the dry season, our boat had to navigate through a somewhat narrowly dredged channel to get to the main body of water of the lake. Somehow, our boat seemed to be the one plagued with problems. Several times we stopped so our boat operator could repair a broken cooling hose, or a fouled propeller, or some other engine issue. We began to doubt we’d make it back on the same boat. Because it was the dry season, our operator could stand up in the water to work on the boat.
When the boat was finally running, we headed to Chong Khneas, a floating village of about 1,115 people closest to the boat launch. It was about a 40 minute trip that brought us out past stilt and floating houses, floating churches, and finally to a floating tourist market and viewing platform to watch the sunset. If our boat didn’t run into so many problems, our boat operator would have taken us to one of the schools or orphanages where they would ask us for money. Luckily, we didn’t do that. Instead, we bought a couple of beers and joined the masses on the second floor deck to watch the sunset. By the time we arrived back at the harbor, it was already dark and we had to take our tuk-tuk back on a road made even more treacherous in the fading twilight.
It was a decent photo opportunity, but for the price, I could have skipped this. There’s just not as much interaction with the villagers as I would have liked, the boat doesn’t actually go through the village itself, and it had the feeling of just another tourist trap.