02-27 Tonle Sap

stilted houses in Kompong Khleang

27th.February, via Tonle Sap to Siem Reap

The Tonle Sap (Great Lake) is the largest body of fresh water in South East Asia. Its dimension changes depending on the season. During the monsoon season from June to October, the lake is filled by water flowing from the Mekong up to 14 meters in depth and expanding the surface to 10,000 square kilometers. In the dry season from November to May its size reduces to 3,000 square kilometers with only two meters or less in depth as the water flows out from the lake back to the Mekong. This reversal of the flow is a natural phenomenon. The lake has great biodiversity with over 300 species of fresh water fishes, as well as snakes, crocodiles, tortoises, turtles and otters. More than 100 varieties water birds including storks, pelicans, etc. are present.

The lake is also an important commercial resource, providing more than half of the fish consumed in Cambodia. In harmony with the specialized ecosystems, the human occupation at the shores of the lake is similarly distinctive with floating villages, towering stilted houses, huge fish traps, and an economy and way of life deeply intertwined with the lake, the fish, the wildlife and the cycles of the rising and falling waters. However due to ineffective administration and widespread indifference towards environmental issues, the lake and its surrounding ecosystem is coming under increasing pressure from over-exploitation, habitat degradation, fragmentation and loss.

Today we had no delays and not too much traffic but it was a long journey anyway. We stopped at a nice restaurant by a lake for lunch and again later at Kompong Thom to view an ancient Naga bridge. The main attraction of the day was a boat trip on the Tonle Sap, the main lake, from the traditional village of Kompong Khleang. At this time of year the shallow water of the lake looks very muddy and this look transfers itself to the fishing villages built on stilts at the sides of the lake. This does not look very attractive when combined with corrugated iron sheets and plastic used in the house construction. They are still mostly wood of course. The final village which we passed in the boat was actually floating, but we did not approach it very closely, which is perhaps just as well. The nicest building was the Primary School which was painted blue with a big notice outside proclaiming its function. We could even see the little kids at their desks learning.

The hotel in Siem Reap was in a more rustical style than we had had in the larger places and not everything worked, but it also had a good restaurant and pool area.

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