As soon as you enter the village, you’ll see rows of tourist boats docked closely together. You’ll also start smelling that fishy smell that seems to be present with river villages. One look at the water and you realize that it’s not even remotely clean. But such is life. People in the village still use it for washing and bathing.
The floating village is rather small. After about 20 minutes of going slowly on the boat, you’ll reach the large Tonle Sap lake. On the way there, however, you’ll see many interesting sights.
This school is probably one of the most famous schools in Cambodia. Even before seeing it in person, I’d seen it several times in other travelers’ photos. Sadly, school hours were over when I arrived so I didn’t actually see any kids.
Some kids went back home by boat, while others went by foot. Since the water level wasn’t that high yet, there was a large area of dry land along one side of the boats so the kids could still walk home.
There was a school basketball court also, which will make you wonder how that could be possible. But as soon as you see the court, you’ll see the genius behind it. The floating court has rails on all sides, so the ball and the kids will always stay inside no matter what happens.
This farm is probably the ‘highlight’ of the Chong Kneas visit (other than the village and the lake itself). The fish farm is a catfish farm and visitors have the chance to feed them. When we came, the fish weren’t that excited about the food that we threw in. I suppose they were already full of food thrown in by previous visitors.
As more visitors stop by the farms, the lady who keeps an eye on the place looks weary when new visitors fed the fish. No wonder, you really can kill fish by overfeeding them.
There is a crocodile farm with about ten crocodiles right next to the fish farm. Most of them hide, but you can still see some of them clearly, whether they’re sleeping or yawning.
There are also a lot of catfish heads floating around the crocodile’s cage. So apparently the fish from the farm gets fed to these crocodiles.
You can also go to the 2nd and 3rd story of the farm for a great view overlooking the floating village and Tonle Sap Lake. It looks like there’s another outlook point not far from the farm, must be another tourist spot, but I’m not sure if they have a crocodile or fish farm as well.
From the rooftop, you can see how big the lake really is. It's so huge, that even though it really is a lake, it looks more like a muddy colored ocean.
It’s great to spend some time here. You can see everything from the top; the lake, the hill, the boats, the people. Definitely a good place for taking pictures.
When we went, it was very windy and we could actually see clouds darkening in the distance. With that, all hope for a sunset was lost because the village would likely receive a big dose of rain very soon (it hadn’t rained in the past few days and it was the beginning of the rainy season).
As minutes passed, the wind grew stronger and stronger and the lake started to have serious waves. The floating houses moved randomly, and people became busy preparing for the rain.
Some kids were playing around by throwing an empty water bottle against the the wind, only to catch the bottle again when the wind pushed it back towards them. Playing around with the laws of physics looked fun!
With the almost certainty of rain, we decided to head back to town before it started to pour. Even though it hadn't actually rained in Chong Kneas, there was no doubt it was already raining in Siem Reap.
Then everything was done in a hurry. We journeyed back to the boat docks and then went straight to the tuktuk and put the rain/wind shield up. While I knew I’d be safely tucked inside the tuktuk, protected from wind and rain, I wondered how my tuktuk driver will fare. Luckily, he had his rain jacket ready and put it on just before we entered the rainy area.
So although I didn’t get to see the sunset, the storm experience was nonetheless very interesting. For anyone who wants to see a world apart from the Angkor temples and Siem Reap, a trip to Chong Kneas at the Tonle Sap Lake is definitely in order.
There are many ways to arrange your trip to Chong Kneas, but the cheapest I’ve found is $15 through The Villa Siem Reap tour. That does not include a sunset experience sometime.
There is also another company that advertises heavily around town, Tara Boat, where you can do a normal cruise for $20 and a sunset cruise for $30. Both of those choices include at least one meal and one drink.
Both The Villa Siem Reap and Tara Boat include the transport to Chong Kneas and back in the price.
If you are much more interested in using the services of regular Cambodian people, you can do what I did and arrange this with a tuktuk driver. As I said, it was $25 for a sunset with no meals and drinks, but at least you know that your money goes directly to the smaller players.
If Chong Kneas is somewhat too mild for your taste or you wish for a more intense Tonle Sap experience, consider making a trip to Kampung Phluk, Kampung Khleang, or the Prek Toal bird sanctuary.
Kampung Phluk and Kampung Khleang are permanent river villages also located on the Tonle Sap lake. However, these villages are much larger than Chong Kneas and are less visited by tourists. So you can get a somewhat more intimate experience with the village and villagers.
The Prek Toal tour is another Tonle Sap Lake experience, but more involved as it will take at least the entire day and will possibly last overnight. Prek Toal is a bio reserve and is the place for seeing a large number of birds. If birding is your thing, check out Sam Veasna and Osmose for their ecotourism tour.
I have found that to individually arrange a trip to Prek Toal will cost you $130 or more. With angkorfocus.com ecotourism option , you will be grouped with other people so that drives the price down to $80 or so.
On a side note, the birds are visible only in the dry season. You can technically go year round, but just don’t expect lots of bird sightings.