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Kayak tours open up the backwaters of Tonle Sap

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Rapturous kayakers glide through the mysterious mangroves on Tonle Sap. Photograph: Kong Vich

Siem Reap isn’t known for its water sports,  but one enterprising local has now made it possible to kayak down the more undiscovered parts of Tonlé Sap lake.

Unique Kayak Cambodia opened in January and runs day trips while providing work for local Khmers and “giving back to village communities through positive tourism.”  

When planning the routes, Unique Kayak Cambodia owner Chin Mean Kung researched areas of Tonlé Sap that were less frequented by tourists, deliberately avoiding the floating villages of Kompong Phluk and Chong Kneas.

“We’ve been looking around because Tonlé Sap lake is huge and there are a few villages, for example Me Chrey, where we are based at the moment, where we found the community was smaller compared to other villages, and it is untouched by tourists,” says Chin.

“If you go to other villages you see too many tourists, but there is something amazing about this village.”

There are two tours available, the full day or the half-day tour. Both take in Me Chrey floating village while the full day also includes a trip to a silk farm, to Pouk market which is famed for its grilled chicken, a visit to a pagoda which in the rainy season becomes a floating pagoda, and lunch at the house of a local family.

“It’s a good combination of silk farm, beautiful rice paddies and the people are very nice,” says Chin. “It’s just incredible. It’s not just the village itself,  but it’s very close to nature. Kayaking through the flooded forest is just amazing.”

The tour provides the chance for bird-watching, with an opportunity to spot storks, ibises and cranes among the mangroves and waterways.  

Chin, who has worked in the travel industry in Siem Reap for ten years, places great importance on health, safety and professionalism. “It’s all about safety first,” he says. His team has lifejackets, first aid kits, lifeguards and even a helicopter on standby in case of emergency.

The company also employs local people. All Chin’s staffers are Khmer and most come from Me Chrey village.

“We hire local boats which means we help the local economy,” says Chin. “On the kayaks we normally have two lifeguards – they’re always with us to make sure we are safe. They are based in the village.”

“Our goal is to help the community. In the future if we make some money we want to sponsor a good English teacher to teach at the village school. Responsible tourism – that’s what we would love to do.

“I feel sad for the villagers because we see so many villages with lots of tourists.  But Me Chrey is very quiet, somewhat isolated. And the people are very genuine because they are not spoilt by tourism.”

Unique Kayak Cambodia runs tours all year round, with a maximum group size of fifteen, and children are welcome. Prices range from $40 - $110, depending on the tour and group size.

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