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Great Lake Cruise: The Tonle Sap
Overview | Heritage Cruises | Pandaw Cruises | Toum Tiou Cruises

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The Great Lake that forms the centrepiece of Cambodia, the Tonle Sap, is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia and an ecological hotspot that has been designated an UNESCO biosphere. Swelling by a factor of up to six during the monsoon season, the river that connects it to the Mekong River at Phnom Penh, the Tonle Sap River, is the only river in the world that reverses is direction of flow as the heavy rains, swollen by melting snow from the Himalayas, tries to escape to the South China Sea through the Mekong Delta.

The Tonle Sap, together with the mighty Mekong River, define the lives of the Khmer people, providing the irrigation, needed to grow rice, and the fish that provides the protein. Without these, the great Angkor kingdom could not have flourished, and what was once the world's largest city, Angkor Thom, perched on the northeast side of the great lake next to the present day city of Siem Reap, would never have been built.

The first half of this colourful river journeybetween Cambodia's current capital and Siem Reap, depending on the direction of travel, follows the Tonle Sap river from Phnom Penh to Kampong Chhnang, one of the largest fishing ports on the Tonle Sap. This area is famous for its hand made pottery, unchanged in style for centuries, a cottage industry that produces sufficient quantities to supply the entire country. Wherever you go in Cambodia, you are likely to stumble across a cow cart, laden with the wares of Kampong Chhnang, as it pursues upon a sales trip that could last up to 3 months.

Other famous products not to be overlooked, for which this area is renowned, come from the Thnot tree (sugar palm tree), an iconic feature of the Cambodian landscape that abound in the area: palm sugar, a mellow tasting, caramel-coloured sugar sold in large cakes, and palm wine, the favourite tipple of rural folk.

Sailing on to the Great Lake itself you come across Kôh Chen, an island whose village inhabitants specialise in silver and copper smithing. They craft ornamental items including the delicately engraved tropical fruits used in traditional ceremonies at the pagoda or for marriages.
The floating village of Chnok Trou is a real floating village with a large population of Vietnamese fishermen. Almost totally overlooked by tourists because of its remoteness and difficult access, the village is completely self-sufficient. Floating school, factories to make ice for fish preservation, church, pagoda, service stations, pigsty, stores, boat or television repair shops, video club, karaoke bar, police station... all except for car showrooms… everything is on the water. All trades are represented and everybody from children to grandparents travel by boat through the network of canals that cross the towns. Fishing, of course, is the primary industry.

Depending on water levels in the lake and rivers, it may be possible to visit Cambodia's second largest city, the elegant, French colonial-era town of Battambang to the west of the lake. Undergoing an artistic renaissance, Battambang is the proud home to many artists and to the Phare Ponleu Selpak, a talented NGO supported circus troupe,

This river cruise is an ideal way to explore hidden parts of Cambodia at a deliciously relaxed pace, while travelling between the must-see destinations of Angkor Wat and the capital, Phnom Penh.


The rivers you will sail on are subject to seasonal rises and falls of water level, in some places as much as 30 metres. Water levels can change dramatically overnight and a sudden rise can impede our progress upstream considerably and even prevent us from passing under certain bridges. A sudden fall can result in the ships being unable to get into certain places or go as far upstream as hoped. Groundings on sandbars are not infrequent and are part of the excitement of any expedition. Published itineraries are indicational only and subject to sudden change. In such events alternative itineraries will be provided and the crew will do their best to ensure that, if a stop is missed, they make up for it with another stop. Passengers are thus forewarned and expected to be flexible and patient. River cruising in Asia can be a dramatic and adventurous experience - not like cruising the controlled waterways of Europe or America. Note also that the boats are operating in areas with little or no developed infrastructure and will also be subject to the strictures of local officialdom. Be prepared for this and it is all more the fun!
E N Q U I R E » Need more information about the Great Lake Cruise: The Tonle Sap? Enquire with a Symbiosis travel specialist today.
* NOTE. Prices indicated on this website are shown as a guideline only and may be subject to currency fluctuations, banking fees and other changes outside our control. Pricing information is available in other currencies.

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