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Exploring life’s ebbs and flows along the Mekong

17 mekong river

The Mekong River flows through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. One great way for tourists to explore the world’s 12th-longest river is the Mekong River Cruises in Cambodia.

This past weekend my colleagues and I took a boat ride down the Mekong co-ordinated by Chaktoumuk Boat & Tours. Our trip began early in the morning, as the weather was starting to get hot in Phnom Penh. A boat ride down the Mekong River starts at $25 an hour, and an all day trip (8am-5pm) at a discounted price is $120.

Our captain, Abraham, gave us a brief report of the day trip, but no safety precautions were announced. At least rows of life jackets were hanging throughout the boat. Abraham has been working on boat cruises since 1983, and says he has not witnessed any accidents.

His son, Noza, also helped with navigating the boat. “Noza is only seven years old, disciplined, and a very good sailor”, stated Abraham. The proud father talked about his son’s navigation skills and a recent trip to Kep province when Noza controlled the boat the entire way.

With over 30 years working on boat cruises, Abraham will soon retire, at the age of 71, and return to his home in Phnom Penh.

The nine-hour boat trip took us to Kandal province, as well as a stop at Koh Oknha Tei Island, the area also known as Silk Island. Koh Oknha Tei Island is famous for its silk weaving, with lush greenery, shady trees, and wooden stilt houses. We stopped at a small café, drank coffee, and ate sour mangoes and other fruits. The peace and serenity of the island was a big change from the hectic city of Phnom Penh.

During the boat ride, we saw fishermen standing in deep water, and driving the fish into the net. One of the locals talked about life on the Mekong River as he was trying to catch a giant catfish, the world’s largest fresh water fish, and one of the most sought after fish.

“During the dry season, the water is low, so there are no fish to catch”, stated Da, a fisherman on Koh Oknha Tei Island. “During this time, we become farmers and grow corn, tomatoes, mangoes, taro and sugar palm. This is a way of life living on the Mekong River.”

One of the challenges these fishermen face is the weather, which determines their source of income. But the locals don’t complain, they just smile, and seemed to enjoy life on the river.

Afterwards, some of us went swimming in the warm and cold water, and searched for baby clams and oysters to cook for dinner.

Our last stop was Khum Bak Kheng, before the boat turned around and headed back to Phnom Penh. Watching the beautiful sunset as we began to dock, I realised what Cambodia has to offer; the busy lifestyle of the city and the serenity of rural life. In between the two? One majestic river.

For information about boat cruises, contact Chaktoumuk Boat & Tours at 012 203 236/ 011 977 482.

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