Eco-Attractions in Siem Reap

Image of a man on a canoe in mangroves

Siem Reap is a city that is chock-full of eco-attractions and initiatives. As a responsible tourist planning ahead is essential.  Below is a list of eco-attractions worth visiting in and around Siem Reap.

We urge you to choose eco activities thus reducing your impact on the environment. Responsible ecotourism includes any activities that have a low impact on the environment. Whilst, at the same time, enhance the cultural integrity of local people. Happily, Cambodia’s eco-related attractions are still continuing to gain popularity with the tourists.

Supporting sustainable businesses and social enterprises with your money is very important. Not only is it easy to do but is also enjoyable. So, visiting eco-attractions means that your holiday will directly benefit the local people and the environment.

Chong Kneas

By far the most accessible floating village from Siem Reap and the most commercial, Chong Kneas is typical of the villages found on the Tonlé Sap Lake. Inhabited by a mix of Vietnamese and Khmer people, this atmospheric settlement can be reached either by road from Siem Reap or on a boat.

The road trip, passing lush paddy fields and an ancient temple atop Phnom Krom takes about 30 minutes from the town centre. Although less intriguing than the Kompong Khleang, Chong Kneas is worth a visit for its floating market, clinic, a catfish farm, schools and restaurants. Also, an exciting highlight is the Gecko Environment Centre’s educating exhibition on the ecology and problems relating to the management of the Tonlé Sap’s biodiversity. Boats to Chong Kneas and other distant villages can be hired from Siem Reap, but prices are usually quite high.

Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary

Widely regarded as the most important breeding ground for large waterbirds in Southeast Asia, Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary covers 120 sq miles (311 sq km) on the northwest tip of the Tonlé Sap Lake. Of the three designated biospheres on the lake, Prek Toal is the best known and is easily accessible from Siem Reap.

The seasonally flooded forest abounds with numerous endangered birds such as the lesser and greater adjutants, milky and painted storks, black-headed ibis, spot-billed pelican, and grey-headed fish eagle. An ideal day trip for ornithologists and wildlife enthusiasts, Prek Toal is best visited during the dry season (Feb–Apr) – the time when migratory birds congregate in this preserve in large numbers.

Visiting the sanctuary can be an expensive proposition, although the price includes transport to and on the lake, entrance to the biosphere, meals, and guided tours. Trips can be arranged usually through a guesthouse or a tour operator.

Visitors can also make their own arrangements, which would include hiring a taxi to the Chong Kneas dock, from where a boat to the Prek Toal Environmental Research Station can be hired. Those keen on witnessing the spectacular sunrises and sunsets can stay overnight at the research station, although they will have to pay for accommodations and food.

Lake Ecosystem

Situated in the very heart of the country, the dumb-bell shaped Tonlé Sap is Cambodia’s most prominent feature and the largest freshwater lakes in Southeast Asia. During the dry season, the lake withers to a diminutive 965 sq miles (2,500 sq km), but when the monsoon arrives it swells to a colossal 4,633 sq miles (12,000 sq km).

The lake’s ecosystem supports the surrounding floodplain with more than 200 species of fish, several types of waterbirds, and reptiles such as crocodiles and turtles. Thousands of fishermen and their families live in floating villages dotted around the lake. The Tonlé Sap provides Cambodia with more than half of its annual supply of fish.

Kompong Phhluk

The atmospheric journey through the wetlands of the Tonlé Sap Lake to reach this village on stilts is a memorable experience. With its floating tethered animal pens, pagoda, fishermen, and gentle pace of life, Kompong Phhluk offers an authentic insight into life on the great lake. Visitors can take in the activities of a typical village – local women selling vegetables on the decks of long-tail boats and school children returning home with the aid of a paddle and boat; tired sightseers can stop for refreshments at a stilted restaurant that serves local food.

It is also possible to visit the vast blue of the Tonlé Sap Lake on a boat, and follow up with a swim in the gnarled, flooded forest – an eerie but exhilarating experience as swimmers must wade through inky darkness. Alternatively, visitors can go out onto the lake in a canoe on their own. The village can be reached either from Roluos, 3 miles (5 km) to the north, or Chong Kneas although it is easier to take an organized tour.

Kompong Khleang

Despite being the largest floating settlement on the Tonlé Sap Lake, Kompong Khleang receives only a small number of visitors, giving those who do venture here an authentic experience of waterside living.

In the wet season, the water levels of the lake swell to within a few feet of the 33-ft (20-m) high houses on stilts, before receding back into the marshy ground. Similar to Kompong Phhluk, Kompong Khleang is a permanent community, its economy wholly dependent on fishing.

In several ways, however, this floating village is even more astounding than Kompong Phhluk – everything floats here, from the school and the general store to the pharmacy, and even the petrol station.

An island situated in the centre of the village has a small, brightly painted pagoda with a macabre depiction of heaven and hell. There is also a flooded forest located next to the village. Kompong Khleang can usually be reached by boat from Chong Kneas. During the dry season, however, visitors are advised to hire a taxi or moto from nearby Dam Dek.

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