During our 7-day itinerary of Cambodia, we found so many must-see places and things to do in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. One of those places of interest not widely known is Tonle Sap Lake.
This lake is home to a floating lake village called Chong Kneas, only a 45-minute drive from Siem Reap. While most visitors to Siem Reap head to the famous Angkor Wat, Tonle Sap Lake is also worth a visit.
Visiting Tonle Sap Lake with EXO Travel
A later start this morning at 9 am by our wonderful guide Thaoun and driver Somning, we headed off for our next adventure. Ten minutes into the trip, we were stopped by roadworks.
The road was having concrete laid, so a detour was required. This we didn’t mind as we cut through an old monastery with the oldest temple in Siem Reap, the 11th-century Prasat Wat Athvea.
There are at least 300 monasteries in Siem Reap and 3000 in Cambodia. The monasteries provide schooling for boys, two meals a day and a roof over their heads. From our previous Intrepid guide, we learned poorer families choose this option at least once in a boy’s life.
Attending a monastery is a sign of respect to your parents. The boys can attend for a week, 3 weeks, 3 months, or more and are then able to return to their own community if this life is not their calling.
We continued along the dirt road towards the boat docking bay at Phnom Karom, passing by fields of lotus flowers. These beautiful flowers are purchased as offerings at the temple. We had thought these flowers were a thing of the past as we had only seen wooden or artificial lotus flowers. But here we were, passing by fields and fields of them.
River Port of Phnom Karom
Arriving at the boat dock in Phnom Karom, we boarded our boat manned by a family of three brothers. We were a little surprised at how young the boys were, thinking perhaps they should have been attending school. But considering the poverty we saw in the villages on the way to the docks, we understood why they were working the boat.
The younger boys offered a hand to assist us onto the boat, we noticed the strength in their small arms.
This time of year (April), the tributary water level is very low, so the boys had to negotiate and keep the boat in the middle of the tributary. Not an easy feat when boats are coming from the other direction at speed and doing the same.
Needless to say, we got stuck a few times in the mud, so the younger boys manned the bamboo poles to release the boat.
While onboard, the younger two boys came behind Maura to administer a back massage – this is done for money which was requested after a five-minute application.
When arriving in Cambodia, tourists are given a small brochure of do’s and don’ts, one is not to give money or candies to begging children. These boat boys were not attending school as the family needs the money, which is a common theme here.
However, a generous tip on the return journey back to Phnom Karom was appreciated by the skipper.
Chong Kneas Floating Village
The boat ride from Phnom Karom took us along the river to Chong Kneas, one of four floating villages on Tonle Sap Lake.
The village has been here for over 300 years, populated by Vietnamese who arrived and settled on the lake for fishing. It was an amazing sight to see the houses roped to a pole. There was even a school.
The water level was about 1.5-2 metres but in the rainy season, it can be 12-13metres. So, the villagers untie the rope anchor and move the whole village upstream. Incredible!
We decided to climb from our boat to the village shop set upon a pontoon to buy a few things to help the local families.
Our guide explained USD1 is enough to buy a meal. This explained why some of the hawkers we experienced here and at Angor Wat were a tad aggressive. Even though we had no baggage space for souvenirs, we purchased some items, as handing over cash without service is embarrassing for them.
Time to Relax at La Niche D’Angor Boutique Hotel
Arriving back at around 2 pm, it was time to cool off and enjoy a cocktail at La Niche D’Angkor Boutique Hotel, Siem Reap. Once again, EXO Travel’s hotel selection was superb.
Time for lunch, and we found a local restaurant (Love U on 27 Street) across the street from our hotel.
The friendly team are university students sponsored by an Australian benefactor who use the proceeds to help fund their studies, living expenses, and their local community. The restaurant was clean, and the food was delicious from locally grown produce. Love U is a great place for lunch.
When planning your trip to Siem Reap, Tonle Sap Lake makes a great addition to your itinerary. Having an EXO Guide join us for the boat trip provided so much more information. Phnom Penh was our next stop on our 7-day itinerary of Cambodia. You can read more about our travel here – Phnom Penh.