Prek Toal is one of three biospheres on Tonle Sap Lake, and the establishment of its bird sanctuary makes Prek Toal the most worthwhile and straightforward to visit. It is an ornithologist’s fantasy, with a significant number of rare breeds gathered in one small area, including the huge lesser and greater adjutant storks, the milky stork and the spot-billed pelican.
Visitors during the dry season (December to May) will find the concentration of birds like something out of a Hitchcock film. As water starts to dry up elsewhere, the birds congregate here. Serious twitchers know that the best time to see birds is early morning or late afternoon and this means a very early start.
Binoculars are available for those who don’t carry their own, and sunscreen and head protection are essential, as it can get very hot in the dry season. For real enthusiasts, it may be best to head out of Siem Reap after lunch, to get to the sanctuary at around 4pm for an afternoon viewing. Stay overnight at the environment office, and view the birds in the morning before returning to Siem Reap for lunch. The guides are equipped with booklets with the bird names in English.
There is another bird sanctuary, Ang Trapeng Thmor Reserve, just across the border in Banteay Meanchey Province in the Phnom Srok region, about 100km from Siem Reap. It’s one of only two places in the world where it is possible to see the extremely rare sarus crane, as depicted on bas-reliefs at Bayon. These grey-feathered birds have immensely long legs and striking red heads. The reserve is based around a reservoir created by forced labour during the Khmer Rouge regime, and facilities are very basic.
Flooded Forest of Kampong Phhluk: More memorable than Chong Kneas, but also much harder to reach, is the flooded forest of Kampong Phhluk, alongside another-worldly village built on stilts. The flooded forest is inundated every year when the lake rises to take the Mekong’s over flow, and as the lake drops the petrified trees are revealed. Exploring this area by wooden dugout is very atmospheric. Further inland from the lake is the village of Kampong Phhluk itself, where most of the houses are built on stilts of about 6m or 7m high, looking it has come straight out of a film set.
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