There’s more to see in Cambodia than just ancient ruins. We found a country with unique rural villages, colonial architecture and a modern capital city.
The Temples of Angkor are not the only thing to see near Siem Reap. Sixteen km south is a fascinating Cambodian village. Located on Tonle Sap (Great Lake), the floating village of Chong Khneas has two completely different looks depending on the season. Tonle Sap River is a tributary of the Mekong River. During monsoon season, the Mekong overflows and backs up into Tonle Sap. The lake goes from having a volume of 1 km³ to an impressive 80 km³. There are 170 floating villages on the lake housing over 3 million people. On the drive to Tonle Sap we passed many homes built on 5 m high stilts. We were expecting to see more of that in Chong Khneas, but we were very wrong. We visited during dry season, and as we entered the village on boat, we were astounded at the site. There were hundreds of homes, high up on stilts 20 m (65 feet) above us. It was overwhelming. At the base of the homes are docks for crude wooden dugouts and a long ladder reaching the front door. When the monsoon fills the lake, these homes appear to be floating on the engorged lake.
The village is larger than we expected with row after row of these tall stilt homes. In the middle of town, on dry land is a golden Buddhist Temple which looks a little out of place, glimmering in gold, amongst the basic wood homes. There were many fishermen on the water using rods, nets and large traps. The villagers lives revolve around the lake as it provides food, transportation and tourism. It’s hard to imagine so much water in such a large area, but now we know why the homes on the drive in were also on stilts; the floodplain extends for miles.
Getting to Tonle Sap – Located 16 km south of Siem Reap, there are many tours offered from Siem Reap or you can hire a tuk tuk to take you there, wait and return to Siem Reap.
Tickets – Tickets for the 30-minute boat ride are sold at Chong Khneas dock. The prices seem to go up and down depending on the mood of the ticket agent. They were originally asking $25/person USD, but we were able to get them down to $20. If you have a large group, the price per person could potentially be lower. It’s quite a high fee considering the cost for one full day in Angkor Wat is $37 USD. On top of it, our boat driver expected us to buy something at the gift shop (which we didn’t) and give him a tip.
On our way from Siem Reap we stopped at the French colonial city of Battambang. In the early 20th century this area was ruled by the French who left behind an organized city with French colonial buildings and planned streets. The colonial area is small, but it’s still a great place to walk and admire the architecture. There are many lovely Buddhist Wats (temples)in Battambang as well. Because of a large ex-pat community, there are quite a few very good restaurants. We had a couple of amazing meals in Battambang.
Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, is located at the confluence of the Mekong, Tonle Sap and Bassac Rivers. We found a lovely river walk along the Mekong River offering nice views of modern buildings which contrast the wooden fishing boats on the river. There are a few good restaurants beside the river walk.
The main attraction in Phnom Penh is the Royal Palace. Originally built in the 1860’s, most of the buildings were rebuilt in the 20th century after being destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. The ornate buildings have golden roofs in typical Khmer style with peaked eaves rising to the skies and a tall central spire. Most of the palace grounds are open to the public except for the royal residences where the Cambodian king still lives. The complex has a lovely setting with a perfectly manicured garden complete with sculpted hedges. When we were there, unfortunately the Silver Pagoda was being renovated.
Tickets – The ticket counter is at the Southern entrance. Tickets are $10 USD per person
What to wear – The King lives in the complex so the dress code requires visitors dress respectfully and modestly. Visitors must wear long pants/skirts that cover the knees and tops much cover the shoulders.
Note – You can’t hail a taxi/tuk tuk on the street in Phnom Penh. Your hotel or restaurant can order one for you.
Coming up Next: A Guide to the Best Coffee Shops in South Asia
For more stories from our other adventures, go to Destinations.
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