We were on our way to Beng Melea when Chet, our tour guide, turned to us. Since we had started off late, I wanted to know if we were still going to have time to visit Tonle Sap Lake, which is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. “Yes,” he said simply. “But because it is dry season, the lake will be very low, you know?”
He told us about a couple he had recently taken on tour who had complained to him that they were sent to the floating village we were going to, Kompuong Phluk, by their hotel, and they were disappointed because the “floating village” was little more than houses on stilts. “‘It’s not floating at all!’ they said,” he told us, laughing. We laughed with him. I was wondering if we should just cancel the floating village trip and go elsewhere, based on all the things I’ve read about the floating villages online.
Chet told us that if we wanted, we could go to another village, Chong Kneas, which should have water even at this time of the year. However, the entrance was more expensive than the $15 we had been told to budget for Kompuong Phluk; it would be $25. It would be up to us, of course. After a bit of discussion with Ana (and honestly not exactly knowing where else we’d go if we didn’t go to a floating village), we agreed.
So after lunch, we headed down to the lake.
We paid our entrance, boarded our hired boat, and off we went.
I’d have to say that I didn’t experience any of the horror stories I’ve read about online. There was no one harassing us to donate anything, we saw the crocodiles in their pit, we walked up to the top deck and saw the expense of the river and village on the highest point available. We didn’t talk to anyone while we were at the tourist center, aside from Chet, who let us walk about and wander at our leisure.
Of course, this could be due to any number of things outside of our control, so take our experience with a grain of salt. Who knows, maybe because of the oppressive heat, no one wanted to harass two Asians to donate. Maybe Chet waved them away for us without me actually seeing him do it. Maybe because it was low tourist season (although one might expect they would be even more keen if they haven’t seen anyone for a while). Maybe it was siesta time.
In any case, we left the tourist center soon enough and went back to the pier via the boat we hired. The water level, in May, is noticeably low and mud-brown, and we could see the trees that, during the later months of the year, would be covered with lake water and serve as home and breeding ground to the freshwater fish that inhabited the lake. Nonetheless, we had a glorious, blue-skied afternoon, quiet and serene aside from the sounds of boat engines when we were out on the lake.
Chong Kneas Floating Village
Tonle Sap, Cambodia
About 11km from Siem Reap
Entrance: US$15 – US$25
Getting there: We hired a driver and guide for the two days we spent “ruins hopping”, and we did a side trip to the floating village on our first day. It’s about 20 minutes from Siem Reap, and you can take a tuktuk, a taxi, or even bike your way to it (if you’re not as directionally challenged as I am). Lonely Planet estimates anywhere from $2 (tuktuk) to $15 (taxi) to get to the lakeside pier.
Getting around: Once you’re at the pier, you’ll have to rent a boat. Cost for the boat seem to vary fairly wildly–I’ve seen some people quote $15 and $30 online. Personally we paid $25 for a boat that carried just the two of us on to Chong Kneas, where we were brought around leisurely among the houses and culminating in a central tourist area where we were given leave to wander a little before heading back to pier.