Missing on the Mekong

Published in the Sun Herald 17 Feb 2013, a story about a cruise without a ship.

Cambodia’s worst flood in a decade has coincided with the Mekong’s biggest cruising season. The AmaLotus is stuck downstream, unable to pass under a bridge because the water level is a whopping 12 metres higher than usual.

To join the vessel, the 100 Australian passengers have to travel by bus for four hours from Siem Reap. But the detour provides a closer glimpse into the local street life. Waves of beige break along the banks of the brimming river as we watch people push through on spluttering scooters and tuk-tuks. Shops and restaurants remain open for business, despite the knee-high water, and staff are still smiling.

When we reach the dock at Kampong Cham, the shiny ship has never looked so good. First stop is the top deck, for the swimming pool (above ground – can’t remember the last time I saw one of those!) and an open-air bar. Local alcohol is included in the fare, so we celebrate our arrival with cold Angkor beers.

Yesterday we visited Angkor Wat, the world’s largest temple complex, as part of a pre-cruise option. For many, the extraordinary site was a “bucket list” achievement; for others, it was surpassed by a visit to an orphanage run by an Australian woman.

But most have come for the eight-day voyage and, as we set sail, the magic of the Mekong unfolds. A glowing sunset illuminates the river and silhouettes the wooden ferries crammed with workers heading home. Smiling families in fishing boats look up to wave at the curious Aussies peering down at them.

We are keeping an eye out for the famous giant catfish and the round-headed Irrawaddy dolphin, but this is not the best place to spot them. Instead we marvel at the ramshackle houses on the river’s edge, defiantly standing amid the floods.

Read more:

Enchanted by a mystic river.

For details about the cruise, see APT.

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