Published on :   08/04/2015

Experiencing Cultural Immersion Along the Mekong

Cruising along the Mekong is absolutely surreal.

There is something so different about the landscapes, the colours and the sights that makes every single moment feel special and interesting. Because we arrived late last night, today I got my first real glimpse at the Toum Tiou I and at the Mekong River. Let me tell you: both are simply spectacular. As the only Mekong River cruise with an open air dining area, we got to enjoy views like this during our breakfast:

Not bad at all…

Beyond the views, I am absolutely thrilled with the cruise itinerary. Featuring a blend of both sightseeing and cultural immersion, small villages and big cities, it seems that this week will be filled with a perfect mix of diverse activity. After sight hopping in Siem Reap, I was ecstatic today at the chance to explore a less touristic side of Cambodia. Docking in the Kompong Chlang province earlier this morning, our excursion took us out to the small village of Phnom Krang Dei Meas, where we dove straight into a day in the life of rural Cambodians.

Stepping off our bus, we were greeted with the sight of simple, modest houses, with villagers toiling hard in the humid heat on pottery and various crafts. Excited children ran around, chasing the chickens and cows that lazily meandered about. Some sights were a little less expected. In contrast to the quiet countryside feel of this tiny village, I saw little girls snapping photos on smartphones, and an old man swiping furiously at his iPad from a tattered hammock. Cambodia is sure full of surprises!

At the village, we were given a very warm welcome from the owner of the house we visiting: Mr. Rhee.

Mr. Rhee was a very interesting man. He spoke only Khmer, which meant our guide had to act as a translator. Despite the language barrier, you could tell he was a man who loved life. Always with a big smile, he expressed himself with a giddy enthusiasm and energy that demonstrated the immense pride he took in his work.

Seating ourselves on plastic chairs just outside his house, Mr. Rhee began to tell us about his life. From the heartwrenching story of his brother being executed during the Khmer Rouge genocide, to his life now working with sugar palms in the village. Throughout our visit, he demonstrated the warm Cambodian hospitality that I’ve come to adore, pulling out jars of palm sugar caramel for us to sample and even letting us try some of his special palm liquor, peculiarly bottled in repurposed water bottles. “Just don’t mix it up with your water” added our guide with a laugh. Surely, with an alcoholic content of almost 50%, that would not be the best idea. 

We then proceeded to a live demonstration of how Mr. Rhee collects the sugar palm. All of us stood in awe as he darted up the tree and maneuvered his way from palm to palm with a shocking agility (for a man of 64 years old!) After the tour, he happily posed for photos and even gave everyone a chance to climb the palm trees for themselves. Giggling, he pulled off his hat, placing it on passengers for the best possible photo opportunity. This kind of thoughtfulness demonstrates exactly why our visit was so special. Being invited into a local village, where the people are genuinely excited to share their lives with you – that’s an experience that you don’t forget. 

After visiting Mr. Rhee, we were dropped off in town for a short walk through their markets. Small stands lined the busy streets filled with motorbikes and cars, selling everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to messy mounds of colourful clothing. I tried my best to absorb the cacophony of my surroundings – the incessant zoom of motors as they sped through the roads, the sizzle and hiss of meats being grilled to sell, the bright chorus of “hellos” from excited children as we walked by… Sometimes witnessing the day to day lives of people can be more valuable than hopping from attraction to attraction, and today was a perfect reminder of that.

Our afternoon was rounded off with a trip to Cambodia’s largest floating village, made up of 1000+ houses built precariously on stilts. Coming from a big city, it was fascinating to see a way of life built purely on water, complete with floating schools, clinics and even salons. As we glided past these colourful buildings (many painted blue to ward off mosquitos), we saw giddy kids playing tag, chatty women preparing meals and even a wedding, complete with vibrant decorations and loud music. I am constantly amazed by the sights we see on this Photo Tour, and the way there’s always something new to open my eyes.

If you can’t tell from all my stories, I absolutely adore my Mekong cruise so far. Every day I wake up not knowing what to expect, and it is honestly the most exciting feeling in the world. Tomorrow brings a new adventure, and… I hear there will be ox carts involved!

Update you all soon,

- Christina