In our two week trip to Thailand, we could not miss a visit to the near and famous Angkor Wat. So we took a flight from Bangkok directly to Siem Reap and spent two days there.
Many people are only visiting Angkor Wat, skipping the rest of the things that you can experience in the area.
We used the first day to see the Siem Reap region, the mighty Tonle Sap Lake and the famous floating village.
Tonle Sap Lake or the Great Lake
More than three million people inhabit the banks of this lake and 90% of them earn their living by fishing and working in agriculture around Tonle Sap Lake. The Lake is the largest freshwater area in South East Asia and its dimension and flow change depending on the monsoon and dry season.
During the dry season (November to May) its size is about 3,000 square kilometers and two meters in depth. In this period the water flows out from the Lake to the Mekong. In raining season (June to October), the lake expands the surface to 10,000 square kilometers and changes the flow direction from the Mekong.
The lake had great importance for people of Cambodia, so there are many floating villages. From Siem Rep there are 3 important floating villages that can be visited.
Chong Kneas Floating Village is the closest to Siem Reap and easily accessible via a paved road which follows the river. The village is extremely touristic and known for many touristic scams. Can be visited only if you don’t have enough time to visit the other villages, but we don’t recommend. Entrance fee is 20 USD and includes a boat trip through the floating village. There is the possibility to visit a crocodile farm here.
Kompong Phluk Floating Village is located a bit further Siem Reap. This is a small floating village, but it is famous for having a flooded forest all year round. It has a lot of facilities for tourist to eat or drink something. Therefore, if you want to relax and enjoy a meal, this is a good choice. Entrance fee: 20 USD and includes a boat trip through the floating village. There is the possibility to visit a crocodile farm and take a canoe ride through the flooded forest for the additional price of 5 USD.
Meychrey Floating Village is located in the opposite direction of the other floating villages. It takes about one hour to get there by car. The village is less touristic and offers an amazing opportunity to see the countryside of Cambodia. Entrance fee: 20 USD, which includes the boat ticket. They have a bird center and a nature reservation. If you want to have a boat tour throught the reservation will cost you 30 USD (entrance fee, boat) plus 10 USD donation for the sanctuary.
Kompong Khleang Floating Village is the largest and furthest floating village in Siem Reap province. Because it is very far, the village is less touristic. Entrance fee: 21 USD (if you are traveling alone) or 20 USD per person if you are part of a tour. The price includes a boat ride through the village and onwards to the Tonle Sap lake where you can see two houseboat villages.
After a lot of reading and a lot for research, we choose to visit Kompong Khleang Floating Village. We knew that the best way to visit this village is with a local. Therefore, we search and found out about Khmer Angkor Driver and contacted them to help us with this visit. We arranged everything with them before our arrival.
So, the next day after our arrival in Cambodia, very early morning, our driver, Kim was waiting for us in front of the hotel. He was a nice person and very helpful. We started our adventure to a very dusty, bumpy countryside road, but the scenery and the local life were simply amazing. At one point Kim stopped the car and he bought us the best bamboo sticky rice I have ever had.
There were some people sitting on the side of the road making these sticks. Just simple people earning some small money. We got so impressed by these people. The entire family from children to elders were making bamboo sticky rice.
First, we arrived at a checkpoint. There was the Ecotourism Center of the village where everyone has to buy a ticket if they wish to visit the floating village. The checkpoint has a bathroom and a shopt where you can buy water and other snacks. During the wet season, this is the place where you start your boat tour. This is because water is very high. We arrived in May, in the dry season, so the dock there was completely dry. Therefore, we needed to hop in the car and drive for 15 more minutes to the center of the village and to the dry season pier.
We reached our destination. Kim parked the car next to the Central temple and we walked down to the pier for the boat ride. After stepping to the boat, we realized that we had the entire boat for ourselves. The boat captain turned the boat around and started to make way through the stream towards the central part of the lake.
While I knew that we were going to visit the floating village during the dry season, I didn’t fully know what to expect. The village was built on stilts on the Tonle Sap in order to avoid being flooded during the wet season when the level of the water increases like crazy. The place looked deserted.
We moved slowly through the dark and muddy water and watch on both sides of the river how people lived their lives. The community largely depends on fishing for survival. They spend Cambodia’s wet season (May – October) fishing and during the dry season (November – April) as the river shrinked, many turn to farming to supplement their income. The life of the people here is difficult.We continued on the waterway that connected the village with the Tonle Sap Lake. The boat moved slowly as there was a lot of traffic. Locals were going back and forth on the narrow waterway.
Once we arrived at the Tonle Sap Lake, we saw other floating villages. We didn’t stop but just by simply navigating around we observed their peaceful way of life.
Visiting Kompong Khleang in the dry season was very interesting. This way you can understand how much the Tonle Sap Lake water level changes in the village and how it is affecting people’s lives. Living on a boat without tap water, gas, heating, internet you might not call this place home. In Cambodia, in the floating villages, people are living this way.