When children playing along the river in downtown Phnom Penh see a bloated corpse
drift by, they know the drill.
On May 28 the badly decomposing corpse of a young woman was fished from the river by local children and carried to Wat Ounalom were it was cremated without ceremony later that day. The five children were paid 10,000 riel apiece for their duty.
With whatever's handy, usually a rattan mat or a plastic sheet, the youngsters scoop
up the gruesome remains from the Tonle Sap and haul it up the riverbank to Sisowath
Quay. They know they'll soon be paid for their labor. With teamwork, the corpse is
carried and dragged the two blocks down Street 154 to Wat Ounalom where it is kept
for cremation. The grisly finding usually draws a large crowd.
It's a grim parade that plays out every few weeks in the urban tourist district,
locals told the Post. According to police, this month has been a busy one.
On the morning of May 28, traffic stopped and hundreds watched as five teenage boys
carried a badly decomposing woman's body across the road to the wat.
Pich Socheata, deputy chief of Daun Penh district, supervised the retrieval and dispensed
equally 50,000 riel to the young helpers. Socheata estimated the woman around 20
years of age. She said that mud found on the back of the neck may indicate a suicide
jump from the Chroy Changvar bridge.
After alerting city health officials, the body was cremated without ceremony.
Daun Penh district police officer Chhoun Cheat said the body was found floating down
the middle of the Tonle Sap by fisherman who, unwilling to touch the corpse, nudged
it to the shore with their boat.
"It happens regularly, usually one or two a month," he said. "But
this month there have been a few more."
The same day the body of Sok San, 20, was found under the Monivong Bridge after allegedly
jumping to escape a gang of pursuing thieves. On May 7, at rush hour on Sisowath
Quay, more than a thousand tourists and locals watched as a bloated, barefoot body
of a man was dragged from the river and carried to Wat Ounalom on a floor mat. Found
with a nylon rope attached to his wrist and ankle, the corpse was still unidentified
when it was cremated the next day. District official Socheata said the commune gives
the wat 100,000 riel to dispose of unidentified bodies. She said it's rare for the
body to be claimed by relatives.
Sim Heng, 20, said he's carted bodies from the river to the wat for 10 years. "Every
month there are a few bodies floating in the river. All that I've seen are swollen
and smelly," he said. "After we move them we get paid 10,000 riel from
the commune hall at the Wat."
Wat Ounalom official Pov Soeung, said more than five corpses from the river are cremated
each year. He believes that bodies "from everywhere get stuck in front of the
Royal Palace" by the river's current.
"I can smell the odor for two days, even though I wash my hands with soap,"
said Toch Vannak, who has transported three bodies this year. "I have nightmares
about [the bodies] because the tongue and the eyes are gone and the face has no skin."