Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. It located in Siem Reap Province, just 15 km south of the town’s center. This lake is the second most popular destination of Siem Reap, right after Angkor Wat. Tonle Sap Lake is surrounded by 5 provinces with the population is about 3 million. 90% of the lake's habitant is the fisherman. Most of them earn living by catching fishes and making agriculture.
One specialty of Tonle Sap Lake is that it changes size and dimension each wet season. During the dry season (November to April), the lake drains into the Tonle River, which flows into Mekong River and it shrinks to as small as 2500 km2 and 1m depth. When raining season comes (May to October), water from Mekong River floods into the lake make the water level rises and the size of the lake increases to approximately 15,000 km2 with a depth of 8m. Due to this continuous change of water level, the habitants of the lake has to move their house follow water level. Therefore, most people live in the floating houses. On the other hand, this special condition helps Tonle Sap Lake becomes a biodiversity hotspot. In 1997, the lake was designated as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
With more than 300 species of freshwater fishes, fishing in the lake is a livelihood for 3 million people, who live in the lake and also provides up to 75% of the freshwater fish production of Cambodia. It is an important commercial resource, providing more than half of the fish consumed in Cambodia. In addition, the lake has a rich biodiversity of fish, bird, reptile and other mammals around the lake. Surrounding the lake is a belt of freshwater mangroves known as the “flooded forest".
The best time to see the bird sanctuary is in the dry season when the water level falls and birds gather in a comparatively small area. And if you want to see the beauty of Tonle Sap Lake, you should come here from June to October.
Tonle Sap Floating Villages: Coming to Tonle Sap Lake, you cannot miss the chance to visit beautiful floating villages and observe the peaceful life of local people here. All the construction floats on the water's surface, from houses, church, school or even basketball court. One of the most famous ones is Kompong Phluk village. You have to go through a green mangrove or indigo forest if you want to get in this village
Chong Kneas: This floating village situated at the edge of the lake. During the trip to Chong Kneas floating village, travelers should stop by Gecko Centre, an informative exhibition that can help to unlock the secrets of Tonle Sap. The floating village looks so peaceful and romantic in the warm light of late afternoon.
Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary: Prek Toal is one of the three biospheres on Tonle Sap Lake. This sanctuary has been also called as “the single most important breeding ground in Southeast Asia for globally threatened large waterbirds". There are a significant number of rare breeds gathered here, including the Huge Lesser and Greater Adjutant Storks, the Milky Stocks and the Spot-billed Pelican or Oriental Darter.