Many visitors to Siem Reap arrive by boat, crossing the vast body of water known as Tonle Sap Lake. This complex lake and river system is of utmost importance to the country’s agriculture and biodiversity.

Although the lake shrinks in scale during the dry months, the monsoon rains cause it to fill and spill over onto the surrounding flood plains, engulfing the forests. This gives way to a thriving underwater wildlife, which is the mainstay of the local economy.

Clusters of villages lean on staggered stilts over the water, and are home to many Chan and ethnic Vietnamese communities. Travelers wishing to explore the villages should venture further upstream away from the tourist-affected waters.

Around two million people live in the area, earning their income from fishing. Their lives revolve around the lake, and depending on the season they sometimes have to up-sticks and move to a better spot. Moving house is usually only a matter of getting towed further upstream; this seemingly stress-free event may take place twice a year according to water levels.

In brief

What is it? A lake which is home to many floating and stilted fishing villages.

Opening hours: 06:00 to 18:00, daily.

Entrance fees: charges vary according to tour operators. A half-day tour usually costs US$30.


Where: outside Siem Reap.

How to get there: from Siem Reap, visitors should book a tour from a travel operator. From Phnom Penh, travelers can take a cruise boat along the lake to Siem Reap (5 hours).