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Tonlé Sap Lake

October, 2004

Cambodia photo.
1. Transport
Cambodia photo.
2. Housing
Cambodia photo.
3. Paddling
Cambodia photo.
4. Forest
nul. nul.

Tonlé Sap Lake is truly a marvel. It is the largest freshwater lake in SE asia, and is connected to the Mekong River by the 100km long Tonlé Sap river. During the June to October rainy season, the Mekong receives more water than it can carry, and backs up through the Tonlé Sap river into the lake. This increases the lake's area by over 4 times, from 3,000 sq km to 13,000. During the dry season, the Mekong River level falls and the flow in the Tonlé Sap River reverses, emptying the lake. Villages and forests around the lake are alternately dry and flooded, depending on the season. During the wet season, boats are the only reliable means of transportation (see photo #1, at left).

Communities around the lake are called "floating villages" during the wet season. Most of the homes are actually supported on pilings and do not really float. We saw many homes that were just barely above the water level (photo #2); the wakes from passing boats were enough to get them wet. All of the normal activities of life go on when the villages are flooded. Many homes have television, although there is no electrical power. They use car batteries which are recharged with a generator at a local shop. We saw people washing clothes in the lake, and some men installing a porch, working from a boat floating next to the house. The local elementary school is moved each year as the water rises. Repair shops work on engines, and political parties advertise. Life goes on, just as it does for us on Razzle Dazzle, our floating home.

During the dry season, the homes are accessible by a primitive road, but it is under water when the lake rises during the rainy season. We saw many different kinds of water transportation on the lake, including small canoes that are paddled from the bow (photo #3). And, of course, the children played in the water in a variety of different ways. These boys are exploring the lake in a small boat. The most interesting was a small girl floating in a large wash basin. We do not know what her gesture was intended to mean.

During the rainy season, the flooded lake attracts many tourists, although we saw only a few during our tour of the lake. We visited on an important Buddhist holiday, and saw mostly Cambodians who had come out to the lake for a picnic. The road along the edge of the lake was lined with people sitting on mats enjoying their holiday dinner. Many, like us, hired a boat to see the sights. We traveled through the "floating village" and out onto the lake through a flooded forest (photo #4). The changing levels of the lake provide both agricultural irrigation water and great fishing. Most of the villagers along the lake are fishermen. There are ferries that run on the lake from near Siam Reap to Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia.


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Jim and Jamie Richter, http://gotouring.com/razzledazzle/
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Created 10/2004. All text & photos are © 2004 Jim Richter.