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Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Cruise on the Tonle Sap: A Ecological Hotspot in Cambodia

If you are planning a trip to Cambodia, you will definitely know about Angkor Wat and the other temples. While Angkor Wat is a fabulous and must-visit place, one should also look at Tonle Sap while they are staying at Siem Reap. Tonle Sap is a ecological hotspot and UNESCO designated biosphere due to its special characteristics.

A moment from Kompong Phluk flooded forests
Tonle Sap, which in Khmer translates to ‘Great Lake’ is a tributary of the mighty Mekong river. The interesting thing about this river is that during the dry season, the Tonle Sap river works like a normal river and drains into the Mekong at Phnom Penh, but during the wet season, the Mekong, which carries a lot of water causes a reverse migration of water into the Tonle river and thus floods the entire Tonle Sap area forming a great lake. This lake is rich in fishes and due to this wet and dry characteristics of the lake, a lot of people dependent on this lake live in floating houses.

Lotus farms enroute to Tonle Sap, Cambodia
While I was at Siem Reap, I booked myself a day trip to Tonle Sap through Tara Boat, one of the oldest and the biggest tour operators on the Tonle Sap Lake. I was picked up at around 7 AM by the Tara guide and in an air-conditioned van. Me and my friend were the first set of people to board the van and then another 5 people joined in. Thus, we were 7 in all and with our guide the group size became eight making it a nice small group.

Chong Khneas - The floating village on Tonle Sap, Cambodia
On our way to Tonle Sap, our guide appraised us of our itinerary and explained to us the origin behind Tonle Sap and how it affects the people living by the river or on the river. We took a brief stop next to a lotus farm for some photography before going to the Tonle Sap ticket counter. The tickets were arranged for by the guide. This is also the place where you can use the restroom else you end up using the really cramped one on the small boat.

Canoeing through the flooded forests of Kompong Phluk, Cambodia
Shortly, we took a small boat owned by ‘Tara Boat’ and began our cruise. First, we went through the floating villages of Chong Khneas, which was beautiful and then we were on the move for an hour before reaching the Kompong Phluk village. Here, we first explored the floating village, gave some books and sketch pens to the kids here and then proceeded to get into a small canoe to explore the true flooded forests of Kompong Phluk. This small canoe ride was really nice and one of the highlights of the trip.

Floating village of Kompong Phluk, Cambodia
The next stop was lunch and it was on top of a large ‘Tara Boat’ boat. Menu was alacarte and drinks were on the house. Food was great and so were the drinks. The top of the boat makes for a great way to enjoy your lunch while admiring the beauty of the Tonle Sap. On our return, we visited the Vietnamese village that allowed you to feed cat fishes, see the Siamese crocodiles and hold baby Pythons. Personally, this was the worst part of my trip as I don’t like to disturb animal life and misusing them for money is strictly not for me. A lot of people seemed to like it, but I stayed away.

Entering the flooded forest of Kompong Phluk, Cambodia
The Vietnamese village was our last stop on the trip and the return journey was fairly uneventful and the van dropped us back to our hotel to mark an end to a great day with Tara Boat. The cruise was fantastic and their guide made the day very special for us by making us cognizant of the Tonle Sap ecosystem. I would recommend Tara Boat with two thumbs up.



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