Kompong Khleang, Tonlé Sap Lake


I thought about taking a trip to Kompong Khleang Village on the northern edge of Tonlé Sap Lake today but decided to take a break and make it a lazy day instead. However, I did want to make a blog entry about this important lake and village. Kompong Khleang is a village on stilts with markets and pagodas on Tonlé Sap Lake.  Tonlé Sap is a very important lake in Cambodia. It’s a lake and a river system combined and the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia. It’s an ecological hot spot and became designated a UNESCO biosphere in 1997.

“The Tonlé Sap River is unusual for two reasons – its flow changes direction twice a year, and the part that forms the lake expands and shrinks dramatically with the seasons. From November to May – Cambodia’s dry season – Tonlé Sap is fairly small and drains into the Mekong River at Phnom Penh. However, when the year’s heavy rains begin in June they push water up from the Mekong and the Tonlé Sap forms an enormous lake.”

The extra water increases the lake’s area to 16,000 square km (6,000 square miles) and its depth to up to nine meters (30 feet), flooding nearby fields and forests. The resulting floodplain provides a great breeding ground for fish.

“The pulsing system with its large floodplain, rich biodiversity, and high annual sediment and nutrient fluxes from the Mekong makes the Tonlé Sap one of the most productive inland fisheries in the world. It supports over three million people and provides over 75% of Cambodia’s annual inland fish catch and 60% of Cambodians’ protein intake. At the end of the rainy season, the flow reverses carrying the fish downriver.”

There are floating houses, restaurants, churches, markets, a billiard house, schools, souvenir shops, a police station, a crocodile farm, and even floating dogs and pigs!  Each floating boat house accommodates up to 12 people. More than 10,000 Cambodians and 100,000 (Cambodian) Vietnamese live on the lake.

The best months to visit Tonlé Sap Lake are March and April during the dry season. Since the lake shrinks during those two months the people who live there move further towards the center of the lake and it’s easier to see the life of the floating village.

During the wet season things change dramatically. The water level rises by about 10 feet. Trees that are visible during the dry season disappear under the wet season water and high waves make the locals move their floating houses towards land.

Chong Khneas is a another famous floating village at the edge of the lake near the Southern part of Siem Reap. The boat trip through the floating village takes about two hours and you can explore Khmer, Muslim, and Vietnamese floating households and their floating markets, fisheries, clinics, and schools. The boat trip includes two stops – one at a floating fish and bird exhibition, and the other at the Gecko Environment Centre, which offers information about the ecology and biodiversity of the lake area.

This afternoon Bhavia and I will visit the Life and Hope Association where John Henry is volunteering to see if it’s something of interest for a future trip. Tomorrow Bhavia, Linda, and I take a bus back to Phnom Penh but first we make an early morning visit to Bayon Temple in the Angkor Wat complex.

“Built in the late 12th century or early 13th century, Bayon is the well-known and richly decorated Khmer temple of the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII. Following Jayavarman’s death, Hindu and Theravada Buddhist kings modified it according to their religious preferences. The Bayon’s most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene and massive stone faces on the many towers which jut out from the upper terrace and cluster around its central peak.

The temple is known for two impressive sets of bas-reliefs, which present an unusual combination of mythological, historical, and mundane scenes. The current main conservatory body, the Japanese Government team for the Safeguarding of Angkor (the JSA) has described Bayon temple as ‘the most striking expression of the baroque style’ of Khmer architecture, as contrasted with the classical style of Angkor Wat.”

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