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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Raffles on the river

Raffles on the river

ALONG the Siem Reap river, huge boats are sat on massive planks of wood. A family on one side of the bank cook fish and drink water while waiting. Children start rushing to the small jetty, where they can get the best view, and others look on from other parts of the bank or the bridge above the river. They’re all waiting to see the team of rowers emerge from Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor, who for the first time have entered the local boat race which runs during the Water Festival.

Perhaps the hardest part of this training session for the Raffles team was getting the boat into the water. A collective groan emanated from the 22 Raffles employees who helped them heave the boat off the planks and down the steep slope, into the river.

Two weeks ago, the team also had problems training because the river was drying up, and the clamber down the banks was even more of an endurance feat.

The captain sits at the front and coordinates his team with a whistle, and the rowers frantically try to keep up the cracking pace.

As the boat nears the finishing point the onlookers join in with the crew, who urge each other on to get the craft across the line.

The team’s aim is to get its time down to one minute 55 seconds and in this training session they almost make it, crossing the line in two minutes.

Chea Bunthorn is one of the employees participating this year. He said the Raffles Hotel team is the only hotel entrant in the race, and they have been training hard since July.

The regime has involved working out at the gym and training with the boat on water, which has been ongoing since October 20.

Raffles Grand Hotel d’Ángkor general manager Robert Hauck, a hardened triathlon athlete, is also participating in the race and says having a team is good for staff bonding. Apart from Hauck, all the rowers are Khmer and were picked from all over the hotel, from housekeeping to chief concierge.

As they trained, the group definitely displayed a sense of teamwork and friendship, particularly Pat Sambo. “It’s very exciting for me and the team, because it’s the first time we’ve joined the race,” he said. “There are four boats we meet when we practice and we’ve developed a friendship with them.”

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