Updated: Jan 28, 2019
Cambodia has two unique seasons - the rainy, also known as wet season, and the dry season. Learn more about the weather, how it affects the Tonle Sap lake, and why you should go on a dry season floating village tour below.
Understanding The Tonle Sap & Mekong River
As you may know, the Tonle Sap lake, the largest body of water in South East Asia, is unique in that the water levels change based on the season. During the rainy season, the Mekong river pours into the Tonle Sap. Rain adds additional water impacting the depth (10+ meters) and circumference (16,000 km2+) of the lake. Around November, following Bon Oum Top (Water Festival), the Mekong begins to reverse its direction, moving upstream through Kratie and Stung Treng and onwards to Laos. As a result, the lake slowly empties, decreasing in depth and size by an astounding 600%.
Due to the change in water levels in the floating village, our tours of the Tonle Sap lake and Kompong Khleang slightly change from that listed on our website. Below we go into more detail so you can better understand Siem Reap floating village dry season tours.
Comparing Dry & Wet Seasons
Before explaining the dry season tour, we will briefly recap the wet (also known as rainy) season tours which we conduct most of the year.
Typical Wet Season Tour
Guests leave Siem Reap between 2:00-2:30pm and make several stops on the way (sticky rice, donuts, and sometimes a market tour).
We arrive at Kompong Khleang by 4:00pm and depart on community tourism boats to visit the village where we work. We take the boat from the beginning of Kompong Khleang or at Wat Kompong Khleang in the center of the town.
We will dock our boat at the school around 4:30pm.
Together we leave the school around 5:00pm to go out on the Tonle Sap. It will take about 20 minutes to get from the school to the Tonle Sap.
Wait for the sunset and leave around 5:45pm. It will take about 25 minutes to get from the Tonle Sap to the pagoda on a boat.
Leave Kompong Khleang around 6:15pm and arrive in Siem Reap later than 7:30 in Siem Reap city.
As mentioned things slightly change starting in January. Here are the major differences during the Siem Reap floating village dry season:
Typical Dry Season Tour
Guests leave Siem Reap slightly later - between 2:30-2:45pm - but still make the same stops on the way (sticky rice, donuts, and sometimes a market tour).
We will arrive in Kompong Khleang around 4:30pm but, instead of getting on the boat at the pagoda, will continue driving directly to the village by van. This is because the water is very shallow.
Just as we do during the rainy season, we take a boat tour of the floating village in the dry season. We will take the boat from the pagoda. We get in the boat around 5:10.
Just as we do during the rainy season, we will take a boat through Kompong Khleang and onwards to the Tonle Sap in the dry season. The waterway is very narrow due to the receding water and becomes a canal that cuts through the previously submerged (but now farmable) lakebed. Because it is narrow the boat travels much slower it can take up to 40 minutes to arrive at the Tonle Sap by boat.
Just as we do during the rainy season, we visit the Khmer and ethnic Vietnamese floating village in the dry season. Some of the residents remove their petrol tank bouys and dock their boats on the land, but the majority continue to float further out on the lake.
We will see most of the sunset and depart the Tonle Sap around 6:05pm
We depart the pagoda at around 6:45 and arrive in Siem Reap between 7:45-8:00pm, about 30 minutes later than we do in the Rainy Season.
What Does Kompong Khleang Look Like In The Dry Season?
To better see what Kompong Khleang looks like in the dry season, we have embedded an aerial video below. You will see how the water has receded from the homes, and a narrow canal has formed. This is the canal we will take to get to the Tonle Sap. Also, note the roads that have developed between the rows of houses on the right. We will take the van down this road to visit the village where we work and doing a walking tour of the floating village along these roads. Afterwards, we jump in the boat and make our way to the Tonle Sap lake.
The Big Benefits of the Dry Season Tour
As you can see, the dry season Tour is essentially the same as the rainy season tour. The major differences are logistical in nature - we travel to the school by van instead of boat, the boat trip is longer, and we arrive back in Siem Reap later due to boat transit times and the late sunset. That being said, the majority of the tour is the exact same.
There are also several benefits to a dry season tour. First, you are able to take a walking tour of the village. This allows us to meet more residents in Kompong Khleang and learn how they live and make a living in the floating village. In addition, we will have the chance to watch farmers work part of the lakebed on our way to the Tonle Sap. This unique form of farming can only be seen during the dry season.
If you have questions about how we will be conducting the tour on a particular date feel free to email us in advance and we'll be able to provide more information. Thanks again for taking time to read this blog post and for your willingness to support our organization!