Tonlé Sap lake, being the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, is entrenched in the way of life of the local people, who live in unique floating villages, and their livelihoods revolving around the fish they catch from the lake.
A trip to one of the floating villages shouldn't be missed to have a glimpse at the way of life of the local residents. Tara RiverBoat Tour Company offers a range of half-day or full-day tours to various floating villages, including Kompong Phluk, Kompong Khleang, and Chong Khneas Floating Village.
I opted for the Half Day Tour of Floating Village, which takes approximately four hours from pick-up to drop-off, and leaves at 8am or 10am. Wanting to sleep in a bit, we picked the 10am tour. Pick-up at my hotel was using a comfortable air-conditioned company mini-van, and we were the only two guests for that tour, making It a very comfortable ride to the port. According to Tara RiverBoat Tour website, tours will proceed with at least one guest.
There was a guide who accompanied us throughout the entire tour. She really was fantastic - not only did she make all the necessary arrangements with the boats and company van to minimize waiting time to ensure a smooth trip for us, she allowed us amble time to explore and soak in the sights. She also was helpful in accommodating our meal and drink preferences for the lunch. Throughout the tour, the guide also provided interesting information on the sights and places we visited, and answered any queries that we had.
Enroute to the port, we stopped by a lotus plantation, whereby the guide explained how the lotus plant has significance in the lives of the local people, with uses in cooking, or in teas, or weaving. It was enlightening for me, not knowing that the lotus is cultivated, let alone seeing a whole field of them.
Next stop was a village by the water bank, where we were introduced to stilt (permanent) houses and mobile houses - which must be moved away when the water rises in the rainy season. A brief introduction was given on the way of life of the people.
It was then to the port where a boat ride followed to the Floating Village of Chong Khneas. We were told that the village have 500 residents, including 400 Vietnamese and 100 Cambodians. With their livelihoods heavily dependent on fishing, the villagers divide the fishing time between themselves so they wouldn't compete with each other. There are two floating schools in the village, a Catholic school, and a Vietnamese school.
Our next stop was to the fish and crocodile farm - which sadly is more of an exhibit showcase with a few examples of the animals than an actual farm. The crocodiles are housed in a small pen at water level, and visitors can peer at them from above. The fishes are catfishes, an important commercial fish in the lake, and visitors can try feeding them using fish food from a bowl at the side. There is also a souvenir shop there, selling all sorts of souvenirs that you may also find at the numerous night markets in Siem Reap. This place provides a good view of the floating village, if you climb to the top.
We then made our way to the Queen Tara Boat, enroute, passing by the floating homes, seeing the residents relaxing on hammocks, children running around the edges of the houses, or playing on boats. There are also floating grocery shops and a community market. It is fascinating to observe the villagers' way of life on water. Enroute to the Queen Tara, we saw how expansive Tonlé Sap lake really is - like a sea, all you can see is water up to the horizon. It is an awe-inspiring view of Southeast Asia's largest freshwater lake.
The Queen Tara, pride of the Tara Riverboat Tour Company, was built in 1927 as a cargo vessel transporting cargo between Vietnam and Cambodia. This grand old dame was also once a hospital boat, a passenger/cargo boat, before retiring as a floating guesthouse, and then converted into a restaurant and bar. It is a calm and tranquil environment onboard the Queen Tara, with the sound of birds chirping and a cool breeze blowing from time to time. Only the roaring sound of motorized boats break the silence time and again. Lying on one of the hammocks whilst sipping a cocktail brings a simple yet tremendous pleasure!
On this tour, lunch is served with two drinks, which include beers, spirits, and cocktails. The food menu offers mostly Khmer dishes, and serving portion is pretty big. I opted for the Tom yam soup with pork, and our guide asked if I like it spicy. The daredevil in me said yes, and I was accommodated with a large bowl of tom yam soup garnished with an entire bird's eye chilli. Thankfully, the steamed rice and refreshing cocktail helped me to wash down the heat!
After lounging for a while, it was time to head back, passing by the floating village once more, and had one last glimpse at the unique way of life there. From the port, it was then an air-conditioned ride back to the hotel, for a good rest after a day out in the sun.
I really appreciate the comfortable and smooth trip that Tara Riverboat Tour offered. Everything (from transport to tickets to meals) was all-inclusive in the price, and the guide made all arrangements so there wasn't any time wasted in haggling. Tara Riverboat Tour also promised on its website that there are no scams for their tours, and true to that promise, all we had was a relaxed, worry-free, and enjoyable time at the floating village without facing touts bugging to buy rice for the local children or requests for exorbitant tipping prices, as what other visitors have encountered in TripAdvisor reviews.
I do recommend Tara Riverboat Tour Company for your tour of the floating villages in Siem Reap, for the peace of mind, and the personalized experience, and the service of dedicated guides who show concern for your welfare and enjoyment.
I paid USD29 per person for the Half Day Tour of Floating Village. Tara Riverboat Tour also provides the same tour at sunset, offering a sunset view of Tonlé Sap lake, a buffet dinner and unlimited drinks for USD36 per person.
You may view Tara Riverboat Tour website here.
A full video experience of my Half Day Tour of Floating Village may be viewed here: