Temples aside, you shouldn’t leave Siem Reap without exploring the fascinating string of lakeside villages (both floating and stilted) on the nearby Tonle Sap, the massive freshwater lake that dominates the map of Cambodia. The majority of these lake’s inhabitants are fishermen, mostly stateless ethnic Vietnamese who have been here for decades, despite being widely distrusted by the Khmer. Most live in extremely basic conditions, their livelihoods increasingly threatened by the government, which has awarded large fishing concessions to wealthy businessmen at the expense of local villagers and who now have to either practise their trade illegally or rent a share from a concessionaire.
The ever-increasing numbers of tourists visiting the Tonle Sap villages has provided an important new source of revenue, although the downside (at least from the visitor’s point of view) is the steady erosion of traditional local life and increasingly theme-park atmosphere, particularly at the coach-party honeypot of Chong Khneas, while even formerly quieter villages down the lake such as Kompong Phluk and Kompong Kleang are no longer wholly immune. For a more authentic view of the Tonle Sap, head to the floating villages near Pursat and Kompong Chnnang on the opposite side of the lake.
As well as the villages, twitchers are attracted to the lake to explore the Prek Toal Biosphere Reserve, home to numerous species of waterbird.
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