After checking in to our hotel, The City River Hotel, in Siem Reap, our local tour guide offered us the opportunity of a boat tour of Tonle Sap Lake. After a great western style lunch, many of the folks in our tour decided to have a free afternoon, however 6 of us chose to take this tour.
It was a rather short bus trip, 15 k’s from Siem Reap, to the boat terminal where we transferred to one of the many modest passenger boats that take you on the tour of Tonle Sap Lake.
I read a lot of conflicting reviews on this trip, but unfortunately many had bad experiences and had been ripped off but we were certainly pleased with our costs and transport. It was definitely worth the trip, but such an eye opener. It is educational but heart breaking.
Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in Asia. The soil is clay based which accounts for some of the look of filth but it was disturbing to witness people there washing their dishes in the lake and pulling fish out. It was also sad to see the shacks that the Vietnam people live it. There are over 1000 families (approx 5000 people) living in these make-shift floating homes and over 3 million living on the banks of this lake.
It was a great experience to see an entire village on the Lake. We were told by the guide that there were 5 or 6 villages on the lake at different spots.
There were stores for purchasing day-to-day needs like groceries, vegetables, etc and there were at least two floating schools.
Many boats had satellite dishes and television for entertainment, and most of the floating houses had hammocks with many residents lying in them and relaxing.
There were children taking a bath in the river and swimming and we saw women in their kitchens doing chores like cutting vegetables or washing dishes etc. Many of the floating homes had there own vegetable gardens which were sometimes a separate floating raft.
We did not expect a luxury boat or comfort or beautiful water and we were not disappointed.
We stopped at one of the larger rafts which was definitely targeting the tourists. There was a shop with tacky souvenirs, tables to sit, a snack shop and a crocodile farm where there are several crocodiles kept in a very small enclosure that is submerged in to the lake. We could see at least 7 or 8 of the crocodiles from a raised platform. The farm had also displayed full size crocodile skin for sale – as leather.
From here we returned to our boat and returned to the terminal where our small bus was waiting to take us back to the hotel.
We were all deep in thought after what we had seen and experienced on the Tonle Lap Lake. We felt sad but pleased that we had chosen to do this very unique tour. Although it is a different way of life to what I have, they mostly seemed quite happy with their lives.
Keep it simple and don’t expect much comfort and luxury. Enjoy and admire how these people manage & survive.