Cambodia Part I, Tonle Sap, the Great Lake and People

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Friday March 05, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Among Cambodia's many unique features, Tonle Sap (The Great Lake) stands out. Enhancing the lake's uniqueness is its relationship to the 7th largest river in Asia, the Mekong River. The Mekong begins way up in the Himalayas and drains down through China, Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos into Cambodia. It does not stop there of course; from there it goes into Vietnam (remember the many war movies that treated it there) and finally the sea.

In the dry season of Cambodia (roughly November to May), the lake drains into the Mekong. Its average depth is 3 meters and its length some 160 km. But in the wet summer season, when the monsoon rains come, the Mekong receives such a volume of water from its path that it reverses and flows back into the lake, flooding the surrounding area until the lake is some 250 km long and 9 meters deep. This reverse flow brings a fresh supply of fish from the river regions into the large flooded shore areas. It also of course forces all of the people living in those areas to move out--often onto floating homes.

Go to the bar on the left and click on Cambodia; then click on the subset The Great Lake and People to see some pictures in the dry season. Note how, in the pictures of Monika and me standing with our backs to the lake, you cannot see the opposite shore. Also along the shore are some shanty homes that will disappear when the wet season comes. Already floating in the lake are both the recreation center's floating basketball court and the church for the lake people, called the karaoke church, since that was the building's original use. The boat people, young and old, sell many items to tourists that come to see the lake--often swinging alongside your boat and hopping on, selling items, and hopping off with the ease of any deckhand sailing the high seas. A special attraction are the young boys with pythons draped around their necks and letting you take a picture with the snake for only $1000 Cambodian dollars (equivalent to US .25 cents.)

Other pictures include our hotel's enjoyable pool and the verandah where I liked to eat breakfast in the fresh air, looking out at the pool. Cambodia, of course has shows depicting their local dances.

Finally, there are the children who sell you postcards, scarves, and other sundry items at all of the tourist stops in Angkor Wat. You will find some ten years old and younger, who are able to carry on a conversation and speak clearly in English, Chinese, German, and/or Japanese. They are cheerful and generally do a soft sell which is different from the more cold style of those in the shops in the city, Siem Rap. They are restricted to the parking lots, though one or two will sneak into the temple areas to have a second crack at the tourists. (One told me that they have to pay a small fee to the police to be in the parking lot areas.) At a different location, a police man offered to sell me an official badge of the Cambodian Police Force. Ta Prohm is next.