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Paddlers set out for Phnom Penh

EIGHT intrepid canoe explorers set off for the adventure of a lifetime through Cambodia yesterday.

Accompanied by a translator and local guide, these American explorers will be travelling for 20 days, from O’Svay on the Cambodia-Laos border, along a 400-kilometre stretch of the Mekong River to Phnom Penh.

They plan to arrive in the capital just in time for the start of the Water Festival on November 20.

Their boats will be no ordinary boats. Instead they will be the first group to journey down the Mekong on paddle boards.

Paddle boarding is one of the fastest-growing water sports in the United States; due to its popularity amongst celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston and the combination of balancing and paddling as a good core muscle-building activity.

It involves standing up and paddling on an oversized surfboard, which is usually 3 metres to 5 metres long. One British journalist said there was “something surreal about being so connected with nature” during the experience.

Annie Pizey, one of the eight boarders, commented that she was excited at the thought of being so close to the natural habitats of the vastly diverse Mekong, including the ability to get near the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin, which is only found in specific pools along the Mekong River.

Pizey also said she felt that many locals along the riverbank might be somewhat surprised to see a group of eight foreigners standing up and paddling down the waterways.

The trip has been organised by staff members of a local NGO, Cambodian Rural Development Team, who were approached by the group for their assistance.

The journey will include stopping in the towns of Stung Treng, Kratie and Kampong Cham, but will also feature home stays on the islands of Koh Pdao and Koh Preah; the two ecotourism sites established in 2004 by CRDT.

The group of eight are journalists and photographers from the US state of Colorado, who are no strangers to the issues concerning rivers around the world.

One group member said that he had worked in South America and that he was interested in being able to draw comparisons between the two regions.

There has been a growing concern among Cambodian NGOs about the problems of maintaining conservation sites, such as the dolphin pools or the Ramsar Wetland Areas in Stung Treng province, but also with the noticeably increasing environmental problems associated with pollution, waste management and threats to natural resources.

The group's blog will keep interested readers updated on the adventure. It will also aim to draw attention to issues which surround the sustainable use of the Mekong, while simultaneously letting others enjoy the tranquillity and peacefulness of paddling down the river.

For more information or to follow the group's progress, go to www.standupforrivers.org.

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