Floating down river

We’re in a Cambodian river in dry season. This means the water below us is only three feet deep.

Our guide points out where the river overflows in the rainy season. To our right, about 20 feet higher than we are, there’s a straight line of plastic bags, stuck in one tree after the other.

“That’s the flood line”, he tells us. In about two months, after a heavy rain, the water gets this high, and the plastic bags are left behind, becoming markers of what’s to come.

Right now we’re moving slowly downstream, almost touching the bottom as we pass fishermen and their boats along the way – our target, a special village about 20 minutes ahead.


And, while I can’t help thinking about the movie Apocalypse Now as we’re moving along, here’s where things are wildly different.

Our captain is maybe 13 years old, though I think looks about ten:

True, there is the occasional curious glance from someone on the riverbank, but most people could care less, focused more on what’s going into their fishing nets:


This route is also a tourist highway. A slow highway mind you (we’re clocking no more than 5 knots), but other boats like us are ahead and behind.


Unlike Captain Willard’s boat trip in Apocalypse Now, there are no eerie turns and unknown curves ahead. Everything is well mapped and predictable. It sort of had to be, because it was also on a reality show.

A few years back, this was the setting for The Amazing Race. The target at the end of the river wasn’t an overweight Marlon Brando, but a yellow card. Our guide, Kim-san, was on the show, helping out and working with the contestants – and while I can’t remember what the specific tasks were that the contestants had to do – here’s where it took place:


A floating village, somewhat like the one we saw in Halong Bay, Vietnam, but at one of the floating, souvenir spots, instead of pearls on hand they’ve got a different kind of farm:


Maybe, not as elegant as a pearl necklace, a ton of tiny crocodiles were for sale, plus a little girl was modelling her own accessory:


After this photo, I thought I’d been had. See her holding up one finger? She’s telling me: “1$” again and again. At first I thought she meant for the cost of my photograph. But she was charging to hold the snake. By the time this was clear, I looked over to Rose to show her, but she’d already spotted it and was on the other side of the room with the same look on her face that she had eating Balot.

The village also includes a school, which we drifted past as kids looked like they were changing classes, from one door to the next, all within a few feet.


I thought, for bored kids, going to school here might not be so bad. With so many tourists passing by, you’ve at least got something to look at “out the window”, maybe even making up games in your head of what country you think a tourist is from based on their looks, clothes and type of camera. Although once this gets boring, I’m not sure what you do – dream of dry land?

The thought of living here is obviously tough- which is, of course, why it’s such a tourist attraction:


Rose made the suggestion of a floating hotel, or a homestay where people could stay with a family and see the day to day workings of a village, built on styrofoam. While, I’m sure some people would be game – having seen how villagers take in the water and what they put back into it, I was fine to float by it in a single day.

Besides, our trip up the river was only a diversion – we had more temples to see on shore. Our Team Canada, headed back, dodged hawkers and touts on the shore, including personalized plates with our faces on them (someone was taking photographs of every person passing through a gate).

Ultimately, the salesman was asking us if we wanted to eat food off our own faces. I’m not sure if this was an appeal to narcissism or self-loathing. I had both enough in check, that I decided not to go down that road and bid the salesman good luck with other tourists who wanted to see themselves in their food.

After this, we all headed back to our hotel, and got ready for the next excursion – one that, actually had eerie elements. But, rather than from deranged rantings of Dennis Hopper at a temple, our temple was popularly known as a tomb. And, the celebrity behind it, was clean shaven, and looked a lot better in shorts:


Talk soon




  1. WOW – great pics! What an adventure! Our adventure this holiday weekend consists of trying to finally fill our swimming pool with a hose – 2 days and counting! First world issue!

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