Tonlé Sap, floating villages on the lake • Cambodia

Unveil the secrets of Tonle Sap, Cambodia, in just over 4 minutes with our eye-opening video. This distinct freshwater lake-river system, an ecological marvel, beats to the rhythm of the seasons and the lives of those who call it home. The shifting waters teem with fish, nourish fertile lands, and present a lifestyle most unique. Observe the astonishing resilience of the communities who navigate the ebb and flow, harvesting the wealth of the waters and the land. Steal a glimpse of a place where fish spawn in submerged forests and houses float on a lake. Your journey to understanding this Cambodian wonder begins here. Don't miss out.

This film was made on the basis of photos and videos taken during the trip Vietnam & Cambodia • 2014

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Reading the text below will help you better understand the natural context of the images in this video.

Tonle Sap


Cambodia has a hydraulic system practically unique in the world and of great importance for the country. This is the Tonlé Sap which combines a lake and a river, both bearing the same name. The Tonle Sap River empties into the Mekong at Phnom Penh.

The particularity of this hydraulic system lies in the fact that depending on the season, the river flows into the lake or vice versa. Thus, from November to May, during the dry season, the Tonle Sap River flows from the lake to the Mekong, while the rest of the year it flows from the Mekong to the lake, under the double action of the melting snow from the Himalayas and Monsoon. Thus the lake serves as a spillway for the overflow of water during the rainy season and as a reservoir of fresh water during the dry season.

The area and depth of the lake are also highly variable. During the dry season, the lake occupies about 2,700 square kilometers with a depth of around one meter, while during the rest of the year it can reach an area of ​​16,000 square kilometers and a depth of up to 9 meters. It goes without saying that the land bordering the lake is submerged for part of the year and with it the surrounding rice fields and forests.


Tonle Sap Resources


The waters of the Tonlé Sap are rich in fish and the surrounding land very fertile due to the alluvial deposits from the lake and the river. Over 200 species of fish live in the lake and the sunken forests provide an ideal ecosystem for fish nurseries. We can say that the Tonlé Sap is probably the only place in the world where fish spawn in the trees.

Once the waters have receded, leaving the rice fields to reappear, they are covered with a large layer of very rich alluvium, favoring harvests. The rice fields of the region allow two annual harvests.

The other fields are also planted as soon as the waters have receded.


Inhabitants of Tonle Sap


Living conditions seem ideal during the dry season, when fertile lands and waters full of fish provide all the food the population needs. However, heavy flooding during the rainy season makes the establishment of human populations virtually impossible.

The only solution is to build his house on the lake. In other words, living in floating villages, and being both fishermen and farmers.

This film presents images of the end of the flooding of the lake and shows the dwellings of the Tonlé Sap nomads.


about the place, Tonlé Sap:

The name Tonlé Sap covers both the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and a river connecting the lake to the Mekong, the river into which it flows near Phnom Penh. This region constitutes a unique biosphere in the world and has been classified as a UNESCO biosphere reserve since 1997.


Spoken comments in the film: 

Tonle Sap Lake is in flood part of the year. During monsoon and snowmelt in the Himalayas, it flows into the Mekong through the Tonle Sap River. Its level, usually very low during the dry season, can rise by more than 8 meters. From November to May, the phenomenon is reversed and the lake is fed by the rivers. These regular floods enrich the soil, but make normal habitat difficult on its banks. People therefore chose to live as nomads in floating villages, becoming in turn fishermen and farmers, depending on the water level in the lake. The photos in this film were taken at the start of the dry season.


What's the weather like at Tonle Sap?

Links to related pages

• Natural sites •

Tonle Sap • Foating villages - Water Life and Culture



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Disclaimer: Despite its appropriateness, copyright issues prevent the use of cambodian traditional music in "Tonlé Sap, floating villages on the lake • Cambodia", hence the use of royalty-free music. Despite our careful selection, some might regret this decision, which is necessary to avoid potential lawsuits. Although difficult, this decision is the only viable solution.

houseboat on the Tonle Sap, Tonle Sap • Cambodia
end of the flooding of the lake. The trees reappear, Tonle Sap • Cambodia

end of the flooding of the lake. The trees reappear

houses on the lake, Tonle Sap • Cambodia

houses on the lake

siesta on the lake, Tonle Sap • Cambodia

siesta on the lake

trader on the lake, Tonle Sap • Cambodia

trader on the lake

Tonle Sap, Cambodia

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