Siem Reap Vistior Guide 59th
with birdwatchers. The best time for viewing is the dry sea- son (Dec-May) when flocks of migratory birds congregate. As the dry season progresses and the water recedes, the number of birds increases but the travel to some of the more important viewing areas becomes more difficult.
The Tonle Sap Lake is the most prominent feature on the map - a huge dumbbell-shaped body of water stretching across the northwest of the country. In the monsoon sea- son, it is one of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia, swelling to an expansive 12,000 km2. During the dry seaso it shrinks 5-fold, draining into the Tonle Sap -River which merges with the Mekong River at the 'chaktomuk' at Phnom Penh. During the wet season a unique hydro- logic phenomenon causes the Tonle Sap River to reverse direction, filling the lake. The engine of this phe- nomenon is the Mekong, which becomes bloated with runoff from the monsoons and backs up into the Tonle Sap River, forcing the waters back into the lake. More than 100 varieties of waterbirds including several threatened and endangered species, over 200 species of fish, as well as crocodiles, turtles, macaques, otter and other wildlife inhabit the inundated mangrove forests. The Lake is also an important commercial resource. In harmony with the specialized ecosystems, the human occupations at the edges of the lake is similarly distinc- tive - floating villages, towering stilted houses, huge fish traps, and an economy and way of life deeply intertwined with the lake, the fish, the wildlife and the cycles of rising and falling waters.
Chong Khneas Chong Khneas is the floating village at the edge of the lake most accessible to Siem Reap. If you want a rela- tively quick and easy look at the Tonle Sap, boat tours depart from the Chong Khneas boat docks all day long. The boatman will probably point out the differing Khmer and Vietnamese floating households and the floating mar- kets, clinics, schools and other boatloads of tourists. Chong Khneas is over-touristed and is not as picturesque as floating villages further afield. The trip usually includes a couple of stops - usually a touristy floating 'fish and bird exhibition' with a souvenir and snack shop.
Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary The sanctuary at the Prek Toal core area of the Biosphere Reserve has been called "the single most important breeding ground in Southeast Asia for glob- ally threatened large waterbirds." The Biosphere covers 31,282 hectares at the northwest tip of the Lake and plays host to species including Greater and Lesser Adjuncts, Black-headed Ibis, Painted Stork, Milky Stork, Spot-billed Pelican, Grey-Headed Fish Eagle and many more species. Of the three core areas, Prek Toal is the most accessible from Siem Reap and the most popular
Kampong Phluk Kampong Phluk is a cluster of three villages of stilted houses built within the floodplain about 16 km south- east of Siem Reap. The villages are primarily Khmer and have about 3000 inhabitants between them. Flooded mangrove forest surrounds the area and is home to a variety of wildlife including crab-eating macaques. During the dry season when the lake is low,
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