There is nothing better than spending a lazy Sunday afternoon indulging in food and beer with friend; especially, when someone else is doing the cooking. Basking in the shade of a thatched hut while watching the sunlight dance on the Mekong River can prove to be the key ingredients for a perfect end to the week.
Mekong Island (or Silk Island) is a destination close to the city but not yet overrun with tourists, 4x4s, or rampant development. To get there, you simply drive over the Japanese Friendship bridge, and travel north along National Rd. No. 6 for approximately 7 kilometres until you see a small sign on the right indicating a turnoff to the ferry.
The ferry is typically Cambodian in that it has no set schedule and leaves only when loaded with enough passengers (be they people or bikes) or quite simply when the driver feels like pushing off. But what’s the rush – it is a lazy Sunday after all, right?
Fellow travelers include groups of teenagers ready to spend the day frolicking in the river and flirting, families having a Sunday outing away from the city, and old ladies returning home from the markets with giant bags of garlic, chilies and rice.
As you drive off the ferry and onto the dirt road that rings the island, you’re transported to a completely different world than the one you just left. Tall, leafy trees form an archway over the dirt road, and chickens run amok under the stilted houses, pursued by small naked children. Wherever you look, you can catch sight of women weaving raw silk on the looms built directly under their houses.
After driving past these sights of rural domesticity, as well as temples, rice fields, and banana trees, you come to the end of the road where lies a gate and teenage boys waiting to charge you the entrance fee of 3000 riel per person.
Drive on through, and you reach your picnic destination – a sandy beach with a dozen or so wooden huts built on stilts above the shallow shores of the Mekong. The cost of renting a hut for the day is a mere $3 – a steal if you consider that each hut comes complete with a mat, a thatched roof to protect you from the sun, and an idyllic view of the Mekong.
Everything you could possibly want is brought to you, with wandering vendors selling mangos, eggs, crisps, cold soft drinks and beer, amongst other delicacies.
Choosing a hut is made simple for you: they are all roughly the same size, and the hut owners will make sure that you’re promptly (and sometimes aggressively) installed in one of their huts.
Usually, the hut owner will ask you if you want a lunch, and he or she will quote a price, which includes a massive culinary spread as well as the rental of the hut. Lunch choices include, barbecue fish, chicken, or pork, fresh river shellfish, water greens, rice, or even fried crickets and worms. All drinks are extra, but arrive refreshingly cold, resting in a bucket of ice.
Most proprietors use only the freshest ingredients for their picnic lunches, as the island hosts few electric freezers or refrigerators. Island goers can enjoy fish that was freshly caught that day, chickens that could have been chased by naked children minutes before, and steaming plates of aromatic Cambodian rice.
After the meal, there’s not much else to do but relax and watch the boats glide by, the children splash and play in the water, and de-stressed Khmers float around in black rubber inner tubes. The river is also an ideal place to take a dip if you get too hot, as this side of the river doesn’t have the accumulated garbage flow that the city side has.
The best part of spending the day here is that nothing is rushed. You’re free to spend as little or as long as you like here. And after the initial vendors do their rounds on you, they tend to leave you alone to enjoy the sunlight, water and fresh food.
Back at the ferry crossing, waiting for the ferry to arrive or depart you can stop for another beer and some customary Sunday boxing on the television at the small bar at the top of the road leading down to the ferry. Or you can take in the sunset over the river, a sight that seems that much more beautiful when your stomach is full of delicious local fare, and when you’re away from the madness of the city.
Aug 5, 2008
The Advisor, 6th Edition