As Time Flows By

The three rivers

The Almond Bassac Hotel Phnom Penh sits at the confluence of three majestic and ancient rivers, the Mekong, the Tonle Sap and the Tonle Bassac, three romantic and historic waterways that flow through the heartland of South East Asia. The rivers are full of legends and myths, from stories of mermaids to the realm of the seven headed nagas at the bottom of Tonle Lake. There are also modern wonders such as the Mekong’s giant Catfish or the incredibly beautiful, but sadly endangered, freshwater Dolphins of the Tonle Sap.

The Mekong

The Mekong River is the largest river in South East Asia and the 12th largest river in the world. From the Tibetan Plateau it runs through China's Yunnan province, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Two thousand years of human history flow along the Mighty Mekong. It is said that the great Khmer civilization, responsible for the building of Angkor Wat is inextricably linked to the Mekong’s shifting tides. Fish and other aquatic life from the Mekong comprise Cambodia’s single largest source of protein and it is also known as the rice bowl of Vietnam for it is on the fertile lands of the Mekong River Delta that the Vietnamese people grow half their nation’s food.

At Phnom Penh the Mekong is joined on the right bank by the river and lake system of the Tonle Sap. When the Mekong is low, the Tonle Sap is a tributary; water flows from it into the Mekong. When the Mekong floods, the flow reverses; the floodwaters of the Mekong flow up the Tonle Sap.

The Mekong River is steeped in a long history and for thousands of years; it has been the lifeline of the populations that depend on it for survival. The earliest settlements along the river date to 2100 BC with the first recorded civilization, the Khmer culture of Funan dating to the 1st century. Excavations have uncovered coins from as far away as the Roman Empire. In the 5th century, the Khmer culture Chenla existed along the Mekong and the Khmer empire of Angkor was the last great state in the region. Roughly 700 years ago, the Thai people escaped from South China across the Mekong to form the Kingdom of Siam (now Thailand), and the Mekong protected Siam from invasions. The same ethnic group also settled in Laos.

In 1540, the Portuguese Antonio de Faria was the first European to discover the Mekong. Although the Europeans showed limited interest in the Mekong, the Spaniards and Portuguese did undertake some missionary and trade expeditions to the area and the Dutch led an expedition up the Mekong in 1641-42. In the mid-19th century, the French led an exploration on the river and concluded that the numerous rapids and waterfalls of the Mekong inhibited navigation. From 1893, the French enlarged their control of the river into Laos until the First and Second Indochina Wars ended French involvement in the region. During the Vietnam War, the west bank of the Mekong provided a basis for raids against the advance of the communist armies in Laos.

The Mekong has long been regarded as the foundation of Southeast Asia's economic growth and prosperity, necessitating co-operation between the riparian countries. In 1995, the "Agreement on the Co-operation for the Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Basin" signed by the governments of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam established the Mekong River Commission (MRC). The MRC facilitates joint management of the shared water resources and collaboration on development issues. In 1996, China and Myanmar became Dialogue Partners of the MRC.

Today, peace has returned to the Mekong. While much of it remains undeveloped and even unexplored, it continues to be closely tied to the daily lives and culture of over 60 million people who live, work and play on this timeless river. For these 60 million, many of whom live in poverty, the fish and other resources in the river account for most of the protein in their diet.

Tonle Sap

Tonle means large river and Sap means ‘fresh’ or more literally, “not salty”; it is the name of both the lake and the river that flows from it down to join the Mekong River in Phnom Penh.

The Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and one of the richest inland fishing grounds in the world. The lake functions as a natural flood water reservoir for the Mekong system as a whole -by regulating the floods downstream from Phnom Penh during the wet season, it also makes an important supplement to the dry season flow to the Mekong Delta.

The lake’s flooded forest and the surrounding floodplains are of utmost importance for Cambodia's agriculture as the region represents the cultural heart of Cambodia as well as the centre of the national freshwater fishery industry.

From roughly June to November the river flows from the Mekong up to the lake. After the monsoon season, as the level of the Mekong drops and the Tonle Sap Lake is full and spreads out across the flood plains, it begins to change direction and reverses its flow, slowly emptying the lake and running towards the Mekong Delta.

Bassac River

The Bassac River (commonly called Tonle Bassac) is a distributary of the Tonle Sap and Mekong River. The river starts in Phnom Penh and flows south, crossing the border into Vietnam near Châu Đốc. It is an important transportation corridor between Cambodia and Vietnam, with barges and other crafts plying the waters. A city of the same name was once the west-bank capital of the kingdom of Champassak.

Several islands inhabit the river as it winds its way to the Mekong Delta commencing with Koh Pich (Diamond) Island, further south there is An Loun Cheng Island, then Kor Island, Kao Khsach Tonlea, Koah Hing, Koh Thmey, Koh Kaat, Koa Thmei, Chheu Khmaw and Sangsar Island. The river also runs alongside lakes and monsoonal wetlands. In Phnom Penh, the Bassac district has become a fashionable meeting point for the city with new modern shopping malls and exhibition centres combining with quaint, out of the way restaurants, bars and cafés. It is the area where the most modern of conveniences blend with a quieter and more peaceful pocket of the city, where there is still some open spaces and greenery to enjoy.

Almond Bassac Hotel

Almond Bassac Hotel and
Sevensea Restaurant
#N2 Next Sothearos Blvd,
Sangkat Tonle Bassac,
Khan Chamkarmon,
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Tel. (+855) 16 31 87 77
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Join our newsletter and stay current with the latest offers from the Almond Bassac Hotel Phnom Penh!


View more on flickr