Dave and Hayley Saxby (25 and 28) celebrate after swimming from one side of the Mekong to the other. Photograph: Scott Howes
An 11-year old Cambodian girl and a married couple were among more than a hundred people who braved the muddied waters of the Mekong yesterday to take part in a mass swim.
Mekong River Swim, now in its 17th year, attracted 112 keen swimmers from more than 20 different countries.
More Cambodians than ever made the crossing, which was organised by iCan British International School, at Prek Leap agricultural college six kilometres north of the city.
Xavier Riblet, a 47-yearold electrical engineer from France, crossed the finishing line after seven minutes 29 seconds, winning the annual 800-metre race.
He has won the race multiple times, finishing in seven minutes five seconds last year – a personal best.
The Frenchman, who swims four kilometres a day, said the strong current and wind made for a difficult crossing yesterday.
The other participants, kitted out in bathing suits, T-shirts and shorts, ranged from 11 to 61 years old.
The average finishing time was 17 minutes, which organisers said is only an estimate.
The length is 650 metres at its shortest, but swimmers were pushed from side to side so they could end up in a longer stretch.
Hayley Saxby, 25, and her husband, Dave, 28, completed the swim side by side.
Hayley, who has lived in Phnom Penh for nearly a year, said she only started training last week in a local swimming pool but was the first woman out of the river yesterday.
“I was a little worried, more about drinking the water [than the swim].
“But I feel great; I will definitely be back next year.”
David Hunt, vice principal and swim-team coach at iCan International, organised the event. Hunt, who has swum the river three times, said they have never had a problem with people getting sick due to water quality.
“People are always anxious about it, but [the swim] takes place six kilometres north of Phnom Penh where the water is actually cleaner.”
When he first got involved with the event three years ago, iCan International worked with the Mekong River Commission to check the water quality.
“It wasn’t a problem [water cleanliness] and I have never heard of anyone who has had a problem.”
He added that this year’s event went smoothly, although two swimmers needed to be thrown a floating aid to help them complete the race.
The money raised from the swim will go towards promoting and supporting the Cambodian Children’s Trust Survival Swimming Programme, a Battambang-based project that teaches children basic survival skills and water safety knowledge.
Of the 13 Cambodian swimmers, 11 were children from the German NGO Chibodia, which home for underprivileged and ex-trafficked children based in Phnom Penh.
The group initially started training last year in order to build up the children’s stamina, and over the last few months, have been training twice a week in the Mekong.
Thirteen-year-old Ravy from Kandal province, who swam the river in 21 minutes and six seconds, said he was not scared when he started the race and came out of the river still seemingly full of energy.
Nary, the youngest competitor at 11 years old might have been the last out of the water yesterday, but, as she climbed the bank to greet waiting spectators, she boasted a winning smile.