Tonle Sap is a combination of a lake and river system in Cambodia that has very significant impact to the lives of people in the country. It is the largest fresh water lake in Southeast Asia. It is also very unusual for two reasons: its flow direction changes twice a year, and the lake expands and shrinks dramatically between seasons. For most of the year, the lake is fairly small and shallow, around 1 meter deep and about 2,700 km2 in area. However, during the monsoon season, the Tonle Sap River reverses its flow and pushes water from the Mekong River into the lake, increasing its area to 16,000 km2 and its depth up to nine meters, flooding the surrounding area. The floodplain provides a breeding ground for fish, and the area is among the most productive fisheries areas in the world. It supports a population of around three million people, and it accounts for 75% of annual fish catch in Cambodia.
After we had a little bit rest after the sunrise trip to Angkor Wat, we packed up and checkout from our hotel for our last day of sightseeing in Siem Reap area that would end at the airport as we would continue our trip to Vietnam at the end of the day. The first place on our agenda was to visit a floating village on the Tonle Sap in an area called Chong Kneas. We drove about an hour southwest of Siem Reap to get to the port before boarding a small chartered boat that would take us to the floating village. On the way to Chong Kneas, we passed villages with houses high on stilts. Our tour guide Vanna explained that they needed to do that because these villages would be flooded during the monsoon season as the Tonle Sap expanded to cover a much larger area.
Vanna showed us the map of the Tonle Sap area to give us an idea the area comparison of the lake surface between the low and the high season. On the map, the area in blue marked as Tonle Sap lake is what it’s like when it’s in low season. The red lines around the lake are actually National Highways, but the reason why they’re built where they are (further out from the lake) is because during the monsoon season, the lake size is roughly close to where those red lines are located. That’s definitely quite unique, and the people who live around the lake had learned to adapt to the changes, and hey are also dependent on the lake to support provide sustenance and as a major source for the regional economy.