Skip to Content

Living on Tonlé Sap, Cambodia

I always find it interesting how people live…and more specifically avoid taxes! It seems to be a universal goal. When we visited Cambodia, our drivers took us outside of Siem Riep to Lake Tonlé Sap where Vietnamese immigrants had set up a city right on the lake.

Tonlé Sap is a UNESCO recognized bio-sphere. The name translates to Large Freshwater River and colloquially as Great Lake. Two reasons it is special is the river’s cycle. When dry it drains into the Mekong River, but during the wet season, like when we went, it turns into a huge lake.

Floating village on Tonle Sap in Cambodia.

Also, the river changes its flow twice a year…weird!  It goes without saying that fishing is the major industry, and there was evidence of this everywhere. We even stopped at some fish farming rings where we watched folks row up, net a fish, weight it and pay for it, then row home.

One of the reasons we travel is to see how people live in other parts of the world, with their various climates, political situations, and many times, ancient cultures. I guess I was never really prepared for some of the realities. To live on water for your whole life is completely foreign to me, but Tonlé Sap is far from the only water village we’ve visited. In Brunei and Malaysia, there were thousands of people living on the water, and they weren’t even immigrants.

Boating around Tonlé Sap, we saw boat vendors, schools, farms, all kinds of animals, and kids floating around in washtubs with their pet monkeys hoping for a tip from the tourists. It was interesting, but at the same time somewhat unsettling. I guess that’s travel in a nutshell….and I love it.

Have you been to Cambodia?  Did you visit Lake Tonlé Sap?

Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.