Tonle Sap Lake - The Largest Freshwater Lake In Asia
One may not get the opportunity to see such a varied and rich variety of flora and fauna near a lake anywhere else in the entire continent but this is exactly what one gets to see at Tonlé Sap Lake in Cambodia.
This is Asia's largest freshwater lake filled with a variety of fish while an extraordinary display of mammals, birds, insects and reptiles can be discovered in little pockets surrounding various parts of this massive water area.
Tonlé Sap is an amazing ecological wonder on Earth and the uniqueness of this water body is not just in her size or varied species that exist in and around it but also in the fact that the water levels rise and drop two times of the year.
These changes in the height of the water lead to a massive diversification of fish and reptiles that migrate and reside here.
Just 1 meter depth exists in the dry season while the raging force of the Mekong River leads to all the surplus rain water being pushed back into the Tonle Sap making it a gigantic reservoir of water roughly measuring 15,500 km² and reaching depths of 8 meters.
These changes in water levels causes the entire scenery of this lake to change twice each year. Not only does the flora and fauna appear different but also the houses and the people need to adjust and relocate their residential structures accordingly.
Entire villages along with their little huts, churches, shops and farms must be moved to places where the water levels are high enough for them to stay afloat.
The rich fish habitat provides food to over 4 Million Cambodians in the country thus making this lake the largest aquatic habitat and seafood provider in the region.
You can catch (or just see) over 300 species of fish and 20 types of snakes in the water. There is also a unique crocodile (Siamese) and leopard species along with 13 different breeds of turtles. A certain catfish found in these waters weighs close to 300 pounds.
A decent array of birds are also seen at the Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary and Park. Besides this, the crocodile farms prevalent around the lake are of great importance in maintaining the endangered Siamese Crocodile species.
Tourists get guided tours by locals and residents alike. The dry season offers bird watching opportunities as well. Whereas, the wet season helps you witness the vast array of fish, turtle and snake species.
Tonle Sap Lake is a UNESCO protected area since 1997 and is officially among the largest inland fisheries in the world. Exploring these waters may take loads of time but at least a boat ride through here should be part of every visitor's itinerary.
Untreated industrial waste, dam construction projects and overfishing is causing the ecological balance of this region to change year after year. Make time to see this water beauty before it's too late.
Passenger ferries from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap are the best way to see most of this lake and the surrounding areas. Rental boats offered by locals are another interesting way to explore this massive lake region.
Another ferry that plies between Battambang and Siem Reap is considered to be a great way of traveling through and exploring these wet lakes of Cambodia (mainly goes through Sangke River).
The government is taking steps to protect this ecologically rich and diverse region by starting off 2 projects since 2012 called the "Mangrove Restoration in Asia" and the "Promotion of Sustainable Fishery and Eco-Tourism" in these waters and surrounding areas.
The exciting seasonal shrinking and expansion of the water size in the river along with the biannual flow reversal makes this large fresh water river a hotspot for tourists to explore.
The highest water levels can be seen during the months of August and September where the monsoon water as well as the melted snow from the mountains flows right into the Tonle Sap lake. May to October is generally when the rainy season and this massive expansion of the lake dimension happens.
Whatever it is, a guided boat ride through the lake for a few hours will treat you to the warmth and hospitality of the nice people who occupy the banks of these rivers.
You shall also experience the sheer natural beauty of this wet landscape while seeing the huge variety of species that aren't found so close to the mainlands elsewhere in the world.
Tonle Sap lake is just 15 kilometers away from Siem Reap and not too far away from Phnom Penh either. A ferry ride of 6 hours from the capital will get you to Siem Reap while taking you right through the Tonle Sap channel.
This is an express boat service that leaves the capital a few times a day and docks at Chong Khneas village.
The monsoon season (especially June to September months) is the right time to come here since the higher water levels allow you to see, tour and explore the entire lake as per your convenience.
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