A city born at the confluence of the Tonlé Sap, Mekong and Bassac rivers, Phnom Penh is defined by the water. In fact, the landscape here is so unique that in the summer monsoon season the powerful Mekong swells so dramatically that it forces the Tonlé Sap to flow backward instead of into the sea. It’s no wonder, then, that the nourishing rivers have shaped this region — like the fishing villages that sprung up by the water. Autumn ushers in Bon Om Touk (Cambodian Water Festival) — a joyful festival taking place as the monsoons subside and the river returns to its original flow — featuring colourful boat races and waterside festivities.
Cool off on a boat ride from Siem Reap, and get to know this region of Cambodia from a different point of view. Tonlé Sap Lake, part of the Mekong River system, is the largest freshwater body of water in the country and is a thriving habitat for floating villages and a biodiverse ecosystem. Within the larger UNESCO-listed Tonlé Sap Biosphere Reserve, the massive lake is framed by the Dângrêk Mountains to the north and the Cardamom Mountains to the southwest.
Venture to the secluded region of Ratanakiri and you’ll be rewarded with views of unfiltered natural beauty and sacred waters.
Ancient volcanic activity that gave rise to the region’s famous blue zircon gemstones (“Ratanakiri” means “gem mountain” or “mountain of gems”) also formed Yeak Laom Lake — pooled within a 4,000-year-old volcanic crater. These clear waters, glimmering in a nearly perfect circle against the surrounding green forest, are located only about 5 kilometres from Ratanakiri’s capital city, Banlung, and can be reached by tuk-tuk or motorbike.