Up The Mekong – The Mighty River

(Me = Mighty. Khong = River). A translation we were given when we asked why The Mekong is referred to as simply The Khong in other parts of Asia.

The daily high-speed ferry departs from South Vietnam (Chau Doc) at 7.30a.m. Picked up from the hotel we were very politely and rather tentatively shown where to embark. We walked down a broken concrete stairway that circumvented another hotel, The Victoria, which looked quite grand-if not a little shabby, that finally lead us to the banks of a river.

It was sunrise, and I do not believe there is anything quite as romantic as the orange globe of the sun rising above grassy river banks and shining on quietly rippling river waters at dawn. It was captivating.

In the early morning hush, our fellow ferry passengers were gathering on the little wooden dock. Bags and people were being quietly but firmly organized, ready to board.

We were pleasantly surprised and relieved at the size and respectable state of the ferry. We had researched options back home but nothing seemed to indicate whether we were at risk of being in danger on an overcrowded mechanically unsound vessel or not. And given I had read that there are fish bigger than cars in the Mekong, we felt very reassured when we eyeballed the ferry.

It was modern, clean, and had more safety gear (life jackets, life buoys, etc.) than I had ever seen on some seafaring transport back home.

The crew were equally reassuring. Very polite, direct and unequivocal with instructions. All passports were to be handed over (really? yikes!), and no one was to sit in a seat not allocated to them. Yay! No one seconding a prebooked window seat. We settled in for our 5.5 hour water trip up the Mekong to Cambodia.

Departing on the dot of 7.30am. we chugged out of The Hau River ,which flows directly in front of Chau Doc, heading north to the Mekong on our way to Phnom Penh.

Our views, as we raced through the waters were spectacular sights of the many lives being lived on this massive waterway. And vast waterscapes capturing the scale of this enormous river. And numerous ships docked in the middle. And the huge variety of vegetation. All adding to our sense of awe.

Fun Facts – The Mekong River flows from its source; the Tibetan Plateau to the South China Sea. It travels through six countries, (China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam), and covers the combined size of Texas and Arkansas – 200 million acres or 3,000 miles in total. It provides livelihoods for tens of millions of people and boasts the worlds largest inland fishery. Accounting for 25 percent of the global freshwater catch in the world. Source: https://wwf.panda.org/wwf_news/?200000/Conserving-the-Mighty-Mekong-River

The high speed of the ferry made for a touch of excitement too, as the river water sprayed across the windows and, for some, cooled their hands as they stretched their arms out. People walked to and from the bow and stern enjoying the fresh air and photo opportunities. The weather was perfect for such a trip.

Ahhh, but there’s always the bureaucracy to navigate before really being able to relax. First, there was the departure from Vietnam, which involved stamping passports and checking that we all had the correct exit paperwork. So off loaded onto a small floating pontoon, we navigated some rickety wooden stairs to a small but very cute little lounge area while the formalities were completed.

As we waited we were able to enjoy a cold drink at outside tables, buy some snacks, and generally wait out the time, (approximately 1 hour), with some ease.

Another picturesque and interesting hour on the river followed. More photos taken and a general air of excitement filled the air. We had exited Vietnam and were now heading further north, to be officially welcomed to Cambodia.

Guided onto another floating pontoon (wooden this time) we were greeted by a very official man. He directed us by hand signals into a compound with blessedly huge shading trees while we awaited the outcome of our desire to enter their country.

One by one we were called into a tiny office to stand in front of a glass panel with an intimidating officer flicking through each passport page before, (suspense building), finally stamping with aplomb the correct page in our passports. The document was then handed back to its owner with a casual wave towards the exit.

Two hours after arriving at the water border, we were now officially in Cambodia.

The remainder of the river trip on one of the biggest, most productive and romantic rivers in the world would take a further three hours. We settled in to absorb the atmosphere and enjoy even more sights on this vast waterway.

I was constantly struck by the number of lives being lead and the industry being undertaken on the water. Fishing, transporting, continual sand dredging and of course tourism.

Throughout the river banks; thick with masses of waving wispy grasses’, green leathery reeds and various trees; grew rows of neatly planted crops, housed ancient temples and a stunningly beautiful reclining buddha statue. He was peeping out for ages from gaps in the trees as we whisked our way passed.

I was feeling completely awestruck. We were travelling a river with one of the most diverse histories, fringed by many fascinating countries, and providing the world with so much pleasure, food and access. It was a very enlightening moment.

Then the views changed. As the ferry entered wider than wide waters and the banks retreated further away, we spotted a distant horizon lined with the incongruous sight of high-rise buildings.

“There’s Phom Penh“, I muttered. “Is it”? I asked. “Yes” came the answer. I suddenly felt I understood how those explorers of yesteryear would have felt when they finally struck land, yelling “land ahoy’ after many months on water. Granted, we had spent a mere 6 hours but the sense of finally “arriving” was strong.

In the far distance looking as if it was rising from the river itself ,was the capital of Cambodia. The air was warm and still, the Mekong continued her magnificent watery run as our high speed ferry docked at a city that reaches down to the river, in greeting.

We travelled with https://hangchautourist.vn/products/ticket-for-express-boat-from-chau-doc-to-phnom-penh

If you would like more information about the Mekong River high speed ferry ride please contact janeco@mytravelroom.co.nz

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