8. Siem Reap: Prek Toal Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve Tour
The Bird Sanctuary at the Prek Toal Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve is one of the most important breeding grounds in the whole of Southeast Asia for endangered waterbirds. Many different species of rare birds can be found there, including but not limited to the Black-headed Ibis, Painted Stork, Greater and Lesser Adjuncts, Spot-billed Pelican, Milky Stork and the Grey-Headed Fish Eagle. Prek Toal is a must-see location for any avid birdwatchers visiting Siem Reap or Cambodia.
The tour of Prek Toal will begin at 6:00am with your hotel or guesthouse pick-up in an air-conditioned vehicle. Friendly, knowledgeable and English-speaking tour guides (and Khmer of course) will ensure that you enjoy your tour, pointing out areas of local interest along the way and answering any questions you may have. It takes about 20 minutes to reach the port of Chong Khneas, and upon arrival, you will exit the vehicle and jump onto one of the Mini Tara’s – smaller boats with life jackets and driven by experienced and safe local drivers.
On route to Prek Toal, you will make three stops. Firstly, as you pass the rice paddy and lotus field, you will have an opportunity to stop and take some photos of the lotus flowers which are a deeply important flower in Buddhism. You will then stop at the stilted houses just before the lake to see how the water levels effect the way people live as well as seeing a floating school. The third stop will be the Crocodile & Fish Farms at Chong Khneas to learn about how some of the tradespeople on the lake work. If catfish, crocodiles and large snakes don’t interest you, there is a souvenir shop and a viewing deck on board for you to purchase some presents for loved ones or take a few photos.
The boat ride through Chong Khneas will allow you to see ordinary Cambodians going about their daily life in the floating village. Fishermen, boat-makers, markets, schools, spirit houses and waving children are always in plentiful supply on this mesmerizing scenic route, and it is not uncommon for the scenery of Chong Khneas to provoke silence on the Mini Tara, as customers take in the sights and sounds that surround them. Once the trip through Chong Khneas is complete, your boat will begin the journey across the Great Tonle Sap Lake to the Biosphere Reserve at Prek Toal. Your entrance fee and boat hire in the Biosphere is included in your ticket price. Your guide will arrange this for you, and join you as you travel through the biosphere reserve.
Of the three Biosphere core areas on the Tonle Sap Lake, Prek Toal is the most popular with birdwatchers. The best time to explore is the dry season between December and May when flocks of migratory birds congregate at Prek Toal. While the dry season progresses and the water recedes, the number of birds increase, but the tour to some of the more important viewing areas becomes more difficult.
You’ll depart from Prek Toal in the early afternoon, and head back to the famous Queen Tara in the heart of the floating restaurant. There, you will enjoy a well-deserved meal and 2 free cold drinks. At about 2:15pm, you’ll leave the restaurant and head back to the port at Chong Khneas where your air-conditioned vehicle will be waiting to transport you directly home to your hotel or guesthouse.