Tonle Sap lake and a floating village. Photo by Jialiang Gao.
What is Tonle Sap?
Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia. It is an unique ecological water system which is designated as a UNESCO biosphere. During the monsoon season, the Mekong River reverses its flow and pushes rain water back into the lake so Tonle Sap’s dimensions change every wet season from 2, 700 sq km with about a meter in depth to as much as 16, 000 sq km with a depth up to 9 metres.
The seasonal flood provides a great breeding ground for fish so it’s not surprising that about 75% of annual inland fishing catch comes from Tonlé Sap and supports more than 3 million people. The lake is one of world’s most productive inland fisheries.
Tonle is also home to many Vietnamese immigrants and Cham (ethnic Vietnamese) communities who live on some of the floating villages, a fact that makes local Cambodians less than happy. Though boat trips to these floating villages are a popular tourist attraction, some tourists complain of negative experiences such as being ripped-off or hustled by beggars.
The habitat and surrounding area is a part of the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve which is home to large colonies of birds such as painted storks and spot billed pelicans (visible easily at the Preak Toal Bird sanctuary).