Tonle Sap Lake (Great Lake in Siem Reap, Cambodia)



The Tonle Sap Lake is the largest feature of the map of Cambodia, and is an important natural resource in terms of fishing and wetlands. One million Cambodians directly depend on this lake in living. 90% of those people have stilt houses constructed in the lake and 10% live in floating villages. Fishermen can catch 300,000 tons of fish annually, 75% of Cambodia's fresh water fishing. More than 150 species of fish live in the lake. But this catfish species is almost extinct now. Altogether, about 60% of Cambodian population are effected by the Tonle Sap lake as it provides, besides fish, fresh water as well as fertile sediments for growing crops along the Mekong, Tonle Sap and Bassac rivers.

Its dimension changes depending on the monsoon and dry season. During raining season from June to October, the lake is filled by water flowing from the Mekong with 14 meters in depth and expands the surface of 10,000 square Kilometers. In dry season from November to May its size 3,000 square kilometers with two meters in depth and water flows out from the Lake to the Mekong, in and out flowing is the natural phenomenon occurrences. The flooded forest surrounding the edge of the lake is the best shelter and also very important for all kinds of fishes spawned and breeding babies. This lake providing many of biodiversities, over 300 species of fresh water fishes, as well as snakes, crocodiles, tortoises, turtles and otters. More than 100 varieties water birds including storks, pelicans, etc.

The water level of this extraordinary inland lake raises 7 metres during the annual rainy season, after above-average precipitation even 9 metres. The minimum size of the Tonle Sap lake of 2,500 square kilometres then quadruples and can even reach 16,000 square kilometres. (For coparison: Lake Constance covers 540 skm, Lake Ladoga 18.100 skm). Only Lake Chad and Lake Dongting with its outlet to the Yangtse river show larger variations in size. In October the Tonle Sap water starts flowing back to the Mekong. This annual event is celebrated in the capital Phnom Penh with boat races, the water festival is the most visited event in Cambodia.

The Tonle Sap is also home to many ethnic Vietnamese who have migrated to Cambodia in the 20th century. The most famous fishermen village of the Vietnamese minority is Chong Kneas, 15 km to the south of Siem Reap. Vietnamese fishermen live on houseboats, thus, Chong Kneas really deserves the title "floating village". Even a church and the elementary school are on boats, it is probably the most photographed school in Cambodia. Though visited by many tourists on boattrips day in and day out, Chong Kneas, unlike touristic “floating villages” in Vietnam and “floating markets” in Thailand, is not a mere souvenir shop and restaurant area (). Most of the villagers are still fishermen, and you can observe their activities. Of course tourist spots are here, too. Usually tourist boats berth at a crocodile and catfish farm. It offers the opportunity to climb to the rooftop and enjoy the view to the floating village.

Location: Siem Reap, Cambodia
Address: Lower Mekong Basin, Siem Reap, Cambodia
More information: At 4,000 square miles, this is the largest lake in Southeast Asia.
Opening hours: Open 24 hours
Entrance fee: Free

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