Skip to content »
Skip to second navigation »

Tonle Sap Lake Life

Published by Kristin Cowles, Editor-in-Chief

Country: Cambodia

The Experience

A wondrous water world, Tonle Sap Lake is the lifeline for many of Cambodia's people. Hardworking and ever adapting communities line the shores of the Great Lake, earning a living from the abundant fishing and farming, and shaping their livelihood around its natural splendor. The total area of Tonle Sap is a combination of rivers and lake, and has major significance, as it is the largest freshwater Lake in South East Asia, and largest freshwater floodplain in the world. This great waterway is also unique for other reasons, twice a year the direction of Tonle Sap water flow changes and the dramatic flooding and draining cycle is astounding.

During the Cambodian dry season, November to May, Tonle Sap is relatively small approximately, 2,700 square km, as it filters water back into the river and ultimately to the Mekong. Astonishingly though, during the wet season from June to October, the waters swell back up due to the monsoon weather from the Mekong basin, and grows up to 16,000 square km, almost six times its original size. With fluctuations this big, it's no wonder the most common dwellings are small house boats which can be easily moved by motor boat to suitable locations based on the season. During the dry season, most the Tonle Sap floating village moves out to the greater areas of water along the river, where as during the wet, houses are typically towed to shallow, calmer waters, banks, and mountain bases.

The culture of Tonle Sap Lake continues to sustain century old traditions, offering a rare unrefined view into one of the more undiscovered sides of Cambodia. The most accessible village from Siem Reap is Chong Khneas, having visited such a beautiful community, it will leave you wanting more. Gliding through the rather murky waters you can view what life is like in what most would consider to be a complete 180 from their current way of life. Houses range in size from small house boats approximately150 square feet, to larger ones roughly 400 square feet. Women glide from boat to boat, selling dried foods and other meats. Men fish off the shores. Children play and learn just the same as anywhere else, well almost. The one downside to the water is the restraints it puts on playtime, so for these schools the playground is enclosed. Makes sense, who wants to swim across the way every time a soccer ball goes astray.

Life along Tonle Sap Lake moves at a different pace and in different manners, but is no less hard working or full of life. Tonle Sap floating villages provide a humbling opportunity to view a way of life many would not otherwise know. This opportunity is remarkable and highly recommended, as it is not yet overwhelmed by visitors like other more famous attractions in Cambodia.




When to Go to Tonle Sap

The best time to visit Tonle Sap is during the dry season, between November and May. The weather is warm and dry, and waters easy to navigate. This is the best time to visit as it lets you traverse easily amongst the floating villages for the best views into the day-to-day life on the Great Lake.

Odds n' Ends

Designated as a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1997, Tonle Sap Lake offers some of the most amazing wildlife viewing for not only birds, but also aquatic life. It is most well known for its giant catfish, which can grow up to eight feet long. Chong Khneas Village is the closest of the floating villages to Siem Reap, so if you depart from here most likely this is the area you will visit. For most, you will quite enjoy the tours offered, costing approximately $10 - $20 US per person varied on duration and what’s included. Others however, have also argued that this is still quite touristy, and opt to arrange their own transportation to the river and once there barter private transport around the villages. The benefit to this is it allows you the flexibility to explore what you are drawn to and stop at interesting attractions, but the prices are only as good as your bartering skills.

Carpe Diem! Book to do this experience now!

Private boat tour along Tonle Sap Lake
Starting from $40.00 per person.
Your Name
Email Address
Telephone Number
From (yyyy-mm-dd)
To (yyyy-mm-dd)
Number of People


Video Wall

You are now being transfered to our Video Wall

Language Guides

French , Lao , Mandarin , Vietnamese are some of the languages spoken in Cambodia. If you know of a freely available phrase book or podcast for one of the missing languages, let us know!


Experienced this and have something to share? Experienced something like this somewhere else? Looking for advise or travel companions? Use this space to leave your mark. Our writers and editors are more than happy to help answer your questions.

People with experience

Recent Tweets

Listed below are the most recent comments made on Twitter for "tonle sap":