4 Curiosities Of The Tonlé Sap Lake In Cambodia

Its floating villages are one of the great attractions of this lake, but there are many others that are worth discovering.
4 curiosities of the Tonlé Sap lake in Cambodia

Tonlé Sap Lake is a point of connection not only between Cambodia’s provinces, but also between communities. The more than 100 floating villages that we can find on the lake offer their visitors a unique way to get to know a very unique culture and way of life.

Similarly, for nature lovers, Lake Tonlé Sap offers a unique landscape and the possibility of observing its fauna and flora. For this reason, many tourists include a tour of this lake within their visit to the country. In this article we have wanted to point out the 4 most outstanding curiosities of this peculiar corner of Cambodia.

1. U-turn of the Tonlé Sap river

View of Tonlé Sap
Lake view

During the rainy season, between June and October, the flow of the Mekong River and the Tonlé Sap River increase exponentially. Due to this phenomenon, the waters of both rivers end up flowing into Lake Tonlé Sap, whose surface area increases from 2,500 km² to 16,000 km². Similarly, the depth goes from two to 10 meters.

However, once the rainy season is over, already at the end of October, the Tonlé Sap River changes direction, sending the lake water back to the Mekong River. Only in the river Nile does a process like this occur.

To celebrate this change of direction of the river, during the month of October the inhabitants celebrate a festival called Bon Om Tuk, or Water Festival. In it, in addition to preparing dishes typical of the celebration, regattas and other sporting events are organized.

2. Lake Tonlé Sap, a unique ecosystem

Storks in Prek Toal
Storks in Prek Toal – Aaron Fellmeth Photography / Flickr.com

Tonlé Sap Lake is one of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia. Its importance lies in the fact that it is one of the last sanctuaries of several species of birds in danger of extinction, such as the black-headed ibis and the eastern pelican.

On the other hand, here is the Prek Toal bird sanctuary, which covers more than 31,000 hectares and is a breeding place for large aquatic birds. Thanks to its recognition by international tourism and by nature lovers, there are many who visit the sanctuary to observe these birds, many of them migratory.

3. The 170 floating villages

Floating village in Tonlé Sap
Floating village

Due to the enormous dimensions of Lake Tonlé Sap, there are almost two hundred floating villages here. In fact, it is located between five provinces: Siem Reap, Kompung Thom, Battambang, Pursat and Kampong Chhnang.

Actually, the houses that are in the lake are not floating, they are stilt houses, raised several meters from the ground and supported by wooden pillars at the bottom of the lake. During the dry season the foundations of each of these houses, temples, schools and shops can be seen. To communicate and as a means of transportation, the villagers use boats.

These villages are becoming a major attraction for international tourism, especially those near the Angkor Temple Route. Even so, you can visit villages where tourism is practically non-existent.

4. The inhabitants of Lake Tonlé Sap

Fishermen on the lake
Fishermen on the lake

Thousands of people live in the floating villages of Lake Tonlé Sap. Its inhabitants, who base their economy on fishing, belong to different races and beliefs. Khmer, Vietnamese and Muslims coexist in perfect harmony in these villages, where, in addition, they have built temples, mosques and pagodas.

The lake is not only its economic source, it is also the center of the community. They use their water to drink, bathe and wash their clothes. Despite being a humble town, each house has an electric generator and a television antenna. In addition, they have built not only houses, but schools, orphanages, sports fields, police stations and even exotic animal farms.

When the lake loses depth, many build temporary houses to live for a few months. However, the population does not decrease during this time, they simply resort to other sources of economic production while waiting for the rains to arrive and the lake to recover its volume.

The Prek Toal Bird Reserve in Tonlé Sap, Cambodia

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