Tale of Mekong in Two Cities

I think the last time I went on a river “cruise” would be when I took the ferry across the Great Ganges during one of my annual hometown visits. Since then, I always considered cruises to be overrated and expensive. Cambodia introduced me to a whole new world of experiences. Not only the scenic opportunity was a like an oasis to my camera filled with temple ruins, but it brought light to a whole new way of lifestyle.

After watching the sunrise and spending the day exploring Angkor, what better way to unwind than end the day stretched out on a boat. Sunset cruises are widely popular in Cambodia and will cost you no more than 20 USD. Usually the more popular choice of watching the sunset is at Angkor itself, but after seeing the crowd during the sunrise, this was a very easy decision to opt for.

My first impression while walking across the narrow gangplank to embark on to the small boat was ‘how the hell did this pirates do this day in and day out?’ Over the loud and overwhelming noise of the engine and the overpowering smell of fuel, my paranoia of drowning sets in. As the ferry driver was guiding us to the main view-point of the sunset, I started thinking about the river. Well, more specifically the size of the river. I mean aren’t rivers are supposed to be small? That’s definitely a long way to swim in case the boat decides to take a turn!! The swells of Mekong doesn’t really help in steadying your nerves; and it definitely works against you when your stomach is full. But once you get past all the initial discomfort, you start noticing the communities and markets that are thriving along this scenic route. One of my favorite moment was when I came across this floating school, where at the end of the day, all the kids were lining up to embark on a boat; some of the kids were actually rowing it themselves.

At 4,350 km (2,700 miles), the Mekong river is the longest river in Southeast Asia. The Upper Mekong rises in China’s Tsinghai province and flows through the eastern part of the Tibet Autonomous Region and Yunnan province. The Lower Mekong forms part of the border between Burma (Myanmar) and Laos, and between Laos and Thailand. Vientiane, capital of Laos, and Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia.

In contrast to the sunset cruise in Siem Reap, the morning river cruise in Phnom Penh was a more of an excursion to Cambodian fishing community. The Tonle Sap Lake (otherwise known as the Great Lake) is the largest fresh water lake in Southeast Asia and the richest fishing lake in the World. Known for its unique ecological hotspot, the river flow changes direction twice per year, and the lake itself expands and shrinks by four times its size with the changing seasons. In the dry season, the Tonle Sap drains into the Mekong River at Phnom Penh. And when the monsoon rains begin in June, the Tonle Sap grows from approximately of 2,700 square km to 16,000 square km ! The unique ecology is one of the many reasons why the Tonle Sap Lake has been designated as a UNESCO Biosphere. 

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