Travelling through Cambodia, you are greeted with the fantastic opportunity to take a glimpse into everyday river life on Tonle Sap Lake. But did you also know that this unique lake is one of earth’s most interesting and natural phenomena? Nicola Gibson explains…
“Every year, during monsoon season, high water levels in the Mekong River hinder outflow from the great lake, causing the Tonle Sap river to back up, reverse its flow and fill the lake rather than draining it. Through the seasons the lake will shrink and expand dramatically and resulting flooding of the river banks leaves the surrounding land very fertile and excellent for farming. The Tonle Sap is also the most important wetland in South East Asia for globally significant endangered species.
Around the Tonle Sap near Siem Reap there are many floating villages which you can visit, one of the most popular is Chong Kneas. But if it’s stilted villages that take your interest, try Kompong Phhluk or Kompong Kleang.
Take a small boat and wind your way down narrow water ways, through mangroves and wetland, passing fishermen up to the waists in water casting their nets – until you reach the extraordinary river villages. Watch the locals go about their everyday routines, passing each other on small canoe boats, paddling from one destination to another; some using their canoes as trading points for selling food and merchandise to passing locals and tourists.
Floating temples, churches, schools with playground, local government buildings shops, doctors, restaurants, fish farms you name it… depending on the village you visit, everything that is normally present in a village, is either on stilts or floating.
If the views of the river villages are not enough, then the warm smiles and waves you are greeted with as you pass by should complete the experience. See the local children joyfully jumping and splashing around in the river, and if you’re feeling brave enough, why not take a dip yourself!
You’ll be glad to know that the area and life on Tonle Sap is protected through the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve (TSBR), an agreement between the Government and UNESCO. Together they oversee the core area and encourage environmentally friendly livelihood, education of local school kids, facility maintenance and social events for the community.
Travelling responsibly through the river villages and together with TSBR, life on the river should continue sustainably into the future, also enabling future generations to capture a unique glimpse of life on the river.”
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* photo by Helen Datlen – Intrepid Photography Competition