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Cruising on the Tonle Sap River | Sovanna, Cambodian River Cruises

Cruising on the Tonle Sap River, Cambodia


Booking a river cruise to Cambodia may seem challenging when you’re looking for an experience a little off the beaten track.

You may be a little apprehensive. How can you strike the right balance between the security of an organised but crowded cruise ship and the independence of travelling at your own pace? Your backpack days may be long gone. But, the spirit of adventure remains strong. And the Tonle Sap river awaits.

A private cruise is an answer to the question. A decidedly authentic experience offering a tranquil and, a more in-depth view of Cambodia.  Catch an unvarnished glimpse into the very fabric of culture and rural way of life. A life that has resisted the pressures of modernity and remained practically unchanged over the centuries. Far from the madding crowd.

Cambodian rivers are quieter and in total contrast to Vietnam where they are more industrious. Calm and mystical, the mighty Tonle Sap is the pulse of Cambodia.

A vital river and lake system. The Khmer word Tonle, means “Great Lake” or “Large Fresh Water River”. Adding to its esoteric vibe, the Tonle Sap river possesses a unique natural phenomenon. Twice a year, the river flow completely changes direction. And, the lake itself shrinks and expands according to the seasons. In the dry season, which is from November to May, the river drains into the Mekong at Phnom Penh. With the arrival of the monsoon rains in June, the heavy precipitation causes the Tonle to back-up and swell the lake, flooding fields and forests.

Cruising on the Tonle Sap River | Sovanna, Cambodian River Cruises

Fish breed prolifically which in turn supports the inland fisheries and the Cambodian people.

Cambodian currency, the riel, takes its name from a locally sourced fish. And then, when the rains abate, the river flow reverses and the fish are swept downriver. The Ecosystem of the Tonle Sap river and lake is the lifeblood of Cambodia.

Waiting for them are the fishermen in their narrow, rickety wooden boats, gently carving through the water, a mesh of nets following in their wake. Perched at the bow, they prepare to drop anchor at a favourite spot. On the river banks, water buffalo plough through the flooded fields, bordered by glinting green paddies and periodically interspersed by the outline of a traditional stilted house.

Marking the end of the monsoon season, welcoming the Harvest Moon and celebrating the reversal of the Tonle Sap, is the yearly Bon Om Touk, a three-day water festival. As boat races explode with colour and fireworks reverberate, it’s a fitting tribute to the significance the river plays in Cambodian life.

Cruising the Tonle Sap and Mekong is a journey into South East Asia as it was in past times. Swathes of an unspoilt waterway. A simpler more relaxed mood echoing a different era. Stretches of flatter scenery in parts are offset by watching the water traffic as heavily laden barges chug by, weighed down so much, that barely inches of the hull is visible above the water line. Judged to the nth degree, the captain knows just one little bag of rice or a few mangos too many could spell the end of the road. Painted eyes on the bows serve to ward off evil spirits. Stilted villages over the river, house bustling markets where vendors crouch beside squirming frogs bound together on poles and baskets of Mekong catfish.

Sovanna | Luxury Cambodian River Cruises

Intrigued? Sovanna, our private boutique cruise boat is waiting to take you along the Tonle Sap River.

We can offer you all the solitude and freedom you need to get the most from your river cruise experience. It has a draft of just 50cm so it’s perfect for shallow rivers. Two double cabins, with ensuite bathrooms, upper and lower viewing, dining and lounging decks, Jacuzzi and sunbeds, provide all the comfort you need to enjoy the trip of a lifetime.

What better way to see the river than on the river?

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