Though Cambodia may not have the 3000 kilometres of coastline like its neighbour Vietnam, Cambodia does share Vietnam’s penchant for fascinating river lifestyles, with the Mekong River and the Tonle Sap River feeding much of the country’s agricultural industry. Its importance in the lives of Cambodians is what makes rivers and waterways such a spectacular experience while in the country. The rivers’ flood pulse is also the reason why many riverside communities are suspended on stilts, which is especially fascinating to witness firsthand. All in all, exploring Cambodia’s waterways is a fascinating and unique way to explore local culture.
Those that have a bit of extra time and are travelling to or from Vietnam should put a river cruise on their list. Many of these Mekong River cruises connect Ho Chi Minh City with Phnom Penh, taking a leisurely route through some of the delta region’s most spectacular scenery.
Those with less time can still get a taste of water-bound living at Tonle Sap Lake, a massive lake that expands and shrinks with the annual flood pulse of the Tonle Sap River. The community here lives in homes that stand metres above the water on stilts to cope with rising and falling water levels, so the experience of gliding through these “avenues” is a stand-out experience for many Cambodia first-timers.
The best times to visit Cambodia’s waterways are during the dry season from October to April, since this means lower water levels that centralize Tonle Sap’s bird population and less rain. However, lower water levels can cause unexpected changes in itineraries if they drop below a certain level, so the beginning or tail end of dry season (October to November and March to April).
Being on the water in Southeast Asia inevitably means more mosquitoes, so having some bug spray or lotion for river experiences is exceptionally important. Battle both the bugs and the reflected sunlight off of the water with loosely-fitting, long-sleeved shirts and long trousers.