Tag Archives: Mekong

Bon Om Touk in Phnom Penh.

I woke up this morning with the sunrise and throwing open my doors I watched as the sun rose over the Mekong River. Definite goose bumps (pimples) moment which was augmented somehow by the atmosphere along the river bank. There seemed to be an air of expectancy about the place, which I couldn’t define but I knew it was there, so, leaving the doors open I went back to bed and listened. The hum grew, there was banging and pounding, beeping of course, but also laughing, shrills voices, faint cheers, boat horns sounding, this was no ordinary start to the day in Phnom Penh. No it was not. It is actually the start of Bon Om Touk, Bon Om Thook, Bonn Om Teuk or Bon Om Tuk. Oh really you say. Yes it is and it is exactly why I came to Cambodia at this time of year. The primary river of Cambodia, the Tonle Sap, does this miraculous thing twice every year. It changes direction. Yes! Really! During most of the year it flows South from the big Lake in the North and joins up with the Mekong here in Phnom Penh. During the rainy season however when the Mekong reaches flood stage the water in the Tonle Sap reverses direction and flows to the North back into the lake. I think that is most unusual and amazing and wanted to see it for myself. I missed it by a matter of days and the TS is now flowing to the South again, but the Cambodians think this is amazing too apparently and there is a huge week long festival, which began in the Twelfth Century, to celebrate the change of direction, it starts today and it is right outside my window.

The schools are closed, the population has the week off, the saffron robed monks are out in force blessing everybody, food booths have sprung up everywhere, the authorities are fencing off the green bits of the riverside park (hence the pounding and banging), the cops are everywhere, lounging on their motorcycles and on the river there are hundreds and hundreds of Dragon boats. Crewed by anything up to eighty rowers these brightly colored racing boats are up to one hundred feet long, many feature an eye on either side of the prow to ward off evil spirits and there will be three days of racing starting on Wednesday. Not only do the rowers face forwards, unlike back home, but there are some boats with all the rowers standing up. Today, and for the next two days there will be practices and elimination rounds. I was due to leave on Tuesday so I quickly remedied that, though getting a riverside room was impossible. There is a rooftop restaurant/bar from which I can watch if the crowds become too much, they anticipate over one million people to attend the fun and games, and this is happening right outside where I am staying. How great is that!

There are other tributes to the river as well, some Holy, like Auk Ambok when the celebrants gather at the Temples at midnight and eat ambok (flattened rice) mixed with banana and coconut. There will be parades along the river featuring illuminated boats during the evenings and apparently everyone gives thanks to the moon in anticipation of a good harvest.

It all sounds pretty fantastic, I stumbled on it by accident and I have only been here for twenty-four hours. I will keep you posted.

Update: I popped out again to see what was happening. Balloon sellers, more food booths, some drumming and the biggest line dance I have ever seen, Cambodian style, there are hundreds of swaying bodies all along the river bank. I have learned a new word “fluvial” as in “fluvial activities”, rivery stuff? I’m sure somebody knows.

Sunrise over the Mekong this morning.

Sunrise over the Mekong this morning.

A section of the riverside park on the banks of the Tonle Sap.

A section of the riverside park on the banks of the Tonle Sap.

Dragon Boats.

Dragon Boats.

More Dragon Boats and look at that horror story of a new hotel in the background. Right at the confluence of the two rivers. Quite ghastly.

More Dragon Boats and look at that horror story of a new hotel in the background. Right at the confluence of the two rivers. Quite ghastly.

Food booth.

Food booth.

Another food booth.

Another food booth.

Another one. OK, enough food booths!

Another one. OK, enough food booths!

Kid's activity apparatus on riverside park.

Kid’s activity apparatus on riverside park.

A young entrepreneur, selling water.

A young entrepreneur, selling water.

Another view of riverside park, just so you know what I am talking about.

Another view of riverside park, just so you know what I am talking about.

Advertisements

Reflecting after a RTW trip

I have been back in California for a month. I cannot even begin to tell you how difficult it has been to get back in the swing of it all. I seem to have been surrounded by an enormous, blanketing fog, a fug even. I can’t see anything, I can’t do anything, everything just seems different, a blur.
After I had been back in Ca for just about a week I was driving down Sir Francis Drake Blvd into our small town when it struck me, where are the ladies collecting cow dung to fire up the cooking for their evening meal, where are the endless smells, some good, some really really bad, where are the bright colored clothes, saris, turbans, where is the endless din, traffic, horns, shouts, where are the tuk tuks, where are the Holy cows? Why is there nothing to see, no jaw dropping forts, no endless vistas stretching away to the horizon, no sand, no dirt, no dust, no crowds and crowds, ha, no heat even? There is not a pot hole within miles. There is hardly even a decent curry, unless I go to Berkeley. I can park easily, I can walk into a shop and know where everything is and what it costs. I am not the remotest bit scared. There is no chanting, there are no bells, there are no Temples to marvel at, no Muezzins calling the Faithful to prayer, there isn’t even a train whistle. There is no new town, city or village for me to explore tomorrow, not even a new street. I know what is going to happen next with crashing certainty, I even know where the next meal is coming from. I am not anxious about talking to people, or even not talking to people. I am not fixated with Internet accessibility concerns for emails, Skype or blog posting. I just about know where close family members are and what they are doing, up to the point where I need or want to know.
Did I really ride a tuk tuk into downtown Vientiane, did I really take an hour’s ride in a sampan on the Mekong river in Phnom Penh, is it possible that I spent a week roaming the Western Ghats without seeing or speaking to another Westerner, did I really stand on the walls of the forts at Jaiselmer, Jodhpur or Udaipur, was that really Ankor Wat, Hong Kong ?
But yes, I guess I did those things and more besides and now I am back, I know I am back as I just went on a lengthy walk (hike) with son the younger, he told me I was back ! Thank you Sebastian.
People said very kind words about my blog posts and now that the fog is clearing I may take it up again, blogging that is. It is also interesting to note that my site is still getting some twenty or so hits a day, from all over the world, they can’t all be from my Mother!
There are a number of events missing in my posts, I may try and cover them before the memory fades. Notably getting sick as a dog in London, of all places, after all that, I get sick in London, it was quite unpleasant and most embarrassing, I didn’t eat for a week and felt dreadful. There was a night in Lincolnshire that was uproarious, my thanks for the hospitality.
Today, July 27th 2012.
I’m reviewing a number of posts that I wrote for my blog after returning to the West Coast, or the Edge as its sometimes known, but you know what, they all seem a bit whiney, wingeing even. Hope the above does not fall into that category. It’s been three months now since I returned and quite honestly I can’t sit still. Jump up every time a plane flies over, where is it, where’s it going, who is on it ? Why am I not on it ? Saw a lady in town yesterday in full sari regalia, it’s the little things. Here I am, on the day that everyone seems to be planning to watch the Olympic Opening Ceremonies, OFF, outa here. In twenty four hours I hope to be checking into a(n) hotel in NAPLES. Wow. See you there or en route.

One Hour of my Day.

“No sir, no Sir, you cannot rent a fishing boat, they are not for holiday makers, you must go on big boat” . I wanted to go ride on a Sampan. I have always wanted to ride on a Sampan and it looks as if my chances of doing so are running out. Not too many days left in Sampan Country. There were many boats for hire, sort of small to medium cruise vessels, complete with full bar, garish lights, tables and chairs for between thirty and seventy five, they are mostly used for dinner cruises up and down the river, at night. This is not what I had in mind at all. “There is one” says I, Oh no Sir he is busy. Well he didn’t look busy, in fact there was no-one on board at all and the whole craft had a somewhat disheveled look, crates and boxes everywhere, random curtains spread about, old bits and pieces, it was a bit of a wreck, almost a garbage dump. A shouted conversation took place from the top of the bank to the bottom. I imagine it went something like “Look at this crazy person, he does not want to spend an hour on the river in a luxury cruise boat, he wants to ride in your fishing boat with no bar, not even a chair”. Ah well, canny fisherman sees a quick buck in sight, ok, ten dollars for an hour, that’s more than I would earn in an hour fishing, lets do it, crazy person or not. Frantic rushing about, junk hurled onto adjoining fisher boat and in about a minute the Sampan was ready to go.

Note the smart mats for the sitting on.

I embarked, given a bottle of water and two beers in a cooler and shaking his head my Captain shoved off. Out into the stream of the Tonle Sap before it merges with the Mekong a half mile down stream and is gone forever. It was exactly what I wanted.

He has got that grin on again

We puttered down the middle of the river and looking over at the bank I could see all the people on the riverfront parade , I could almost hear the comments.

Undeterred we puttered on and reached the confluence of the two rivers, it got a little choppy.

The rivers meet

The village on the other side, flooded in the rainy season I would imagine

Today's catch

Fixing things

Everyone is busy

The riverfront in Phnom Penh

On our way back to the dock.

Here it is in all it's glory, my boat. (not sure you can see the file name but it is img_1948.jpg. Significant !)

I did finally Skype the younger son this evening and told him this brief, one hour tale. Sebastian commented ” Well Dad, that sounds like a life’s ambition achieved”

Too right Seb, too right.

A Day out in Luang Prabang

A very slow day in Luang Prabang as predicted. I did leave the hotel at 5.30am to catch the bus into town as one of the big attractions here is the early morning Binthabhat ceremony when the monks from the 30 odd monasteries in town process down the main street receiving alms from the citizenry. As well as receiving, the monks also donate some of the food stuffs they are given to the less fortunate, children mainly, as far as I could see.
Well this all sounds fine and admirable, however the reality is something completely different. I arrived, solo, sat on a low wall to watch and initially, in the dark, made out a long row of citizens sitting quietly with a pot of rice before them ready for the procession. All very heartwarming. However, as dawn broke, the light strengthened all hell broke loose. Convoys of laden SUVs, tuk tuks, and taxis arrived depositing hundreds of camera toting “people”, who proceeded to behave in the most appalling fashion. I watched, amazed, as a camera with a two foot lens was thrust inches from a two year old’s face. When the monks finally came along it really was a nightmare. People falling over themselves, and the monks, to get the best shot. There was even one group led by a guide with a megaphone telling his group where to stand and giving them advice on what was going to happen next. Ok, I was there too, but kind of hanging back, on the other side of the street, behind the parked SUVs etc and quite honestly I took more photos of the deranged mob than of the monks. Oh it was dreadful, quite ghastly, wretched even.
So, bus back to hotel feeling sorry for the state of mankind and other profound thoughts. Had a shower and breakfast and fortified walked back into town. Found the ferry terminal for transport up, down and across the Mekong River, sat there for over an hour absorbing the timeless activity and felt better about everything.
Time to potter about the town which I did for about three hours, had lunch, came back to the hotel as it got rather hot and took a two hour nap.
Back into town tonight for the joys of street food, though last night’s hotel dinner with wine was no more than $15.00 and it was good, well ok, well passable. Street food may be better.
This is the first day since leaving SF that I haven’t had a schedule and I feel quite refreshed, already looking for local adventures. There is a two day boat ride up the river, then two days back that sounds appealing.
btw, I think I unlocked the you tube video from HCMC about crossing the road. That seems a long time ago and somewhat irrelevant but those interested will find it at the bottom of the Ci Chu Tunnels page.
More as I go.