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A Homestay Experience on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake


Earlier this year our Travel Specialist, Ceri went straight from running the Brighton Marathon to hopping on a plane and jetting off for some well needed RnR in Cambodia. One of her highlights was spending the Khmer New Year with a local family on the Tonle Sap – the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia.
Decorative torn edge

Organising a trip with a difference

One day in April I was running the Brighton marathon, and the next I was en route via 3 flights to Siem Reap in Cambodia, with the muscle ache setting in (making getting on and off the planes a real struggle!). On arrival I spent a relaxing day by the pool in Siem Reap before heading off to experience life on the Tonle Sap. Rickshaw’s resident Cambodia Travel Specialist Brittany had planned my trip, and knowing that I’m a Meaningful Travel Warrior she included the one night homestay. For me meaningful travel is not only about giving something back to the communities we visit but also what we gain from it ourselves as travellers, meaningful memories that last a lifetime and are great fun to share with our friends back home.

Cambodia Tonle Sap river boat
Cambodia Tonle Sap homestay bedroom

A lake house on stilts

We travelled just over an hour north to Kampong Khleang, 45 km away. I was lucky enough to have Mr So Hun as my guide, he spoke great English and his enthusiasm and passion was infectious. He was keen to spread his knowledge of the Tonle Sap lake which is actually the source of the famous Mekong river. I stayed in a very basic house on stilts on the top floor with a family of seven spanning a few generations who slept below in their shop. Although it was April, (the hottest time of the year) the heat was manageable and being low season meant there was less tourists about and that the village was dry. In wet season (August-October) the family move up to the top floor as the lower levels become flooded due to the lake swelling to five times its size.

Celebrating New Year – Khmer style!

Hun took me for a wander along the what would usually be wet waterways but was now dry mud, and told me all about the lives of the inhabitants of this small fishing community. Despite being the only tourist in the village no one was bothered about my presence which was quite refreshing. It was the Khmer New Year during my visit which meant there was no fishing going on as everyone was on holiday. For the elders of the village this meant a soaking with talcum powder and cold water by the children as well as feasting and loud music, fascinating to witness!

Local man at the table
Cambodia lake sunset

An unforgettable sunset

Later in the evening I was taken along the river by boat to the heart of the lake where the floating villages are located, with many Vietnamese inhabitants living off the lake. The fish caught here provide food for people all across Indochina. The sunset was truly unforgettable and my guide happily snapped away along with me!

Jul Muoy!

After helping to cook a traditional Khmer meal with the family we were treated to duck bones to suck on, washed down with an endless supply of Angkor beer which was being kept cool with ice in a baby’s bath (!). Many passers-by came to sit with us, apparently all astounded to see a western lady drinking beer and wanting to hear me shout “jul muoy”, the Cambodian phrase for “cheers”. Traditionally it must be said before any person takes a sip and then everyone must also join in and swig together. Good in a way, but not in another as no one is left behind! It was such a communal spirit and I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy a beer in the same way again. My stay on the Tonle Sap was a real highlight of my trip to Cambodia and I can’t wait to go back one day.

Stay with a local family for the night on our Life on the Tonle Sap trip.

Boats Cambodia