From Jahan in Southeast Asia & the Pacific
Jan 24, 2013 - Jahan
Kampong Tralach, Angkor Ban, Mekong River
We rose with the Mekong sunrise on the banks of Kampong Tralach, with an enthusiastic turnout for an authentic oxcart ride through the rice paddies and lotus ponds along the Tonle Sap River. This was the real deal, as the local villagers organized their oxcarts and oxen to greet us at the high-water mark of the riverbank. As promised, it was not the most comfortable local transportation of our voyage, but where else could one rumble through the rice fields with pond herons, egrets, and pied kingfishers fluttering about in the first light of day? Besides rice, we passed ponds of holy lotus flowers, the seeds baked and eaten and the flower pods sliced and boiled. Clay from the annually replenished mud banks was molded and cooked in small brick factories, fueled by the fires of discarded rice husks.
Our oxcart adventure ended at the local schoolhouse, where we were treated to the ritual raising of the Cambodian flag. We then entered two of the classrooms to talk to teachers and students about rural education in Cambodia. The first-graders enthusiastically showed us their writing, art, and singing abilities, and we treated them to a few animated classics of our own like the Hokey Pokey and the Eentsy Weentsy Spider. It was an absolutely unforgettable interaction that inspired us all for the future of this rebuilding culture and nation. As we left the classrooms, our ship’s doctor Greg Holzman presented the schoolmaster with a huge pile of elementary English workbooks, maps, and posters that our shipmates from our previous voyage had purchased to support the school. Big projects and an enduring relationship were now underway…
Words cannot describe the dizzying fishing activities on both the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers as we cruised through most of the day, and it was hard to pull ourselves away from the ship’s rails. However, a colorful crew demonstration of Khmer dress and a comprehensive talk on current Cambodia by former Canadian ambassador to Cambodia Gordon Longmuir were lively variations in a very active morning.
In the afternoon Captain Quy eased the ship into the Mekong riverbank and we walked ashore at the unadulterated Khmer village of Angkor Ban. It is hard to imagine that almost nowhere else in the country are these types of 100-year-old traditional houses found anymore. Finally, we traversed the river and Captain Quy beached the ship on a sandbank for a Mekong sunset sandbank party. Drinks and dancing made for a joyous evening, but the highlight was watching the Buddhist fire balloons carry our wishes up toward the waxing moon.
How much can the senses absorb in a single day on the Mekong River…?