- Encounters with locals
Several floating villages that simply bristle with life have grown up around the edge of the lake: three near Siem Reap and two near Phnom Penh.
Tonlé Sap provides the lifeblood for the local Cambodian population, who both fish in its waters and live on its surface. I had the chance to visit several different floating villages, and on each occasion I observed wonderful scenes of everyday life: children playing in the water, floating restaurants, people washing up at the lake's edge, etc.
In my opinion, this is an excursion you absolutely won't want to miss when visiting Cambodia. It's a place where you can really get close to the local population and meet lots of people, especially if you tour round in a dugout canoe or small motorised boat.
The levels of Tonlé Sap lake vary a lot between the dry and rainy seasons. In the rainy season approximately 25% of the country's population lives on the lake or on its banks.
You can hire a tuk-tuk in Siem Reap which will take you to the closest floating villages. I visited Kampong Pleuk. It was a great trip. When we left I had anticipated watching the sun set over the village but the boat's captain insisted on returning to the jetty to pick up new clients. A bit disappointed, I was cheered up on the road back to Siem Reap by seeing a magnificent sun set over the rice paddies.
You don't have to take a special trip to Kampong Pleuk if you've planned to go by boat from Siem Reap to Battambang. Because during that superb crossing you will pass numerous floating villages. I really fell in love with this journey. Make sure you find out what the level of the lake is before you book, as the journey can be very long, and even impossible at certain times. In January it took us a little more than 8 hours.
The first time I sailed on the Tonle Sap, was on an excursion from Siem Reap to see the floating village of Kompong Khleang. After sailing the river's branches, along the houses on stilts, I ended the day enjoying a beautiful sunset on the lake.
Two days later, I was aboard a boat for 9 hours on Tonle Sap to get back to Battambang, and again I passed by countless floating homes and couldn't stop admiring this vibrant life that had been built up on the lake.
Because the lake is really at the heart of Cambodian life, it is impressive to see people organised there and living on it. This journey was one of the most beautiful settings of my stay and I loved these brief exchanges with the locals who were accepting of my being at the heart of their lives and their privacy.