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Mekong Crossing

Hankering for fresh fish, cold beer, and a break from the city, we hop a public ferry across the Mighty Mekong. The journey, however, doesn’t quite turn out as intended.

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The boys don’t know it yet, but today is going to be an exciting day. Lori and I have been talking about it for a couple of weeks now, but today we’re finally going to do it.

Yep, that’s right. Today, we cross the Mekong!

Riley frequently enjoys dining in the jungle. We try and get him out there as much as possible. So he feels like he’s back with his own kind from time to time.

Adds a whole new meaning to Frame Shop. I shudder to think where all these came from.

A break from city gazing for some brotherly love.

We’ve crossed the Bassac River to Diamond Island (Koh Pich) and the Tonle Sap to Chrouy Changva, which leaves just one major waterway left in Phnom Penh. The mightiest of them all — the Mekong.

I’m not sure what to expect for this journey. We’re told to head to the confluence of the three rivers on the Daun Penh side and there we will find our ferry to the other side.

When we arrive, it’s clear it’s not going to be that simple.

Just getting down to the boats is a tiny adventure. We buy our tickets from a woman in a booth near the quay, then proceed to find our way down to the boats. She waves us in one direction that is currently blocked by a line of cars waiting to board. So we do too.

A short while later, a couple of women walk right past the line of vehicles. Hmm, should we follow them, or are they being sneaky? One of the ladies turns around and motions for us to follow. Safety in numbers, I guess.

We follow the paved ramp down to the loading area. About half way down, the line of cars is given the signal to load, and suddenly we find ourselves in a sea of cars with two little ones.

Then it occurs to us that not all of the ferries are headed to our destination, Arey Ksat. So begins the tedious exercise and going from boat to boat asking the individual boatmen if their boat is going to uh’ray kuh’sat? Arree kessett? We don’t know how to pronounce the dang place, and these guys (understandably) have no idea what we’re saying.

Finally, one guy says, “Here!” and we jump on the ferry. We’ll just have to see where we end up. Vietnam, perhaps?

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Our boys love boats. Lori and I love boats. Any day we get to be on a boat is a good day, generally speaking.

It’s Saturday afternoon and the boat, unsurprisingly, is filled to capacity. At least, I’d like to think this is capacity, but I’m certain this boat’s seen more.

Riley and I take in the sight laid out before. Which prompts me to take a moment to locate our nearest flotation devices and water exit. Check and check.

The crossing affords us a commanding view of Phnom Penh’s increasingly modern and ever-expanding skyline…

…which contrasts significantly with where we’re headed on the opposite side of the river.

A stark reminder of Cambodia just outside the greater metro bubble.

Docking and unloading is a no frills affair. As we approach the mud and rock bank, the engines cut out. The ferry quickly glides towards land before we hear the thundering sound of the steel hull scraping against the river bank. The ramp on the bow falls to the ground with a thud and motorbikes and people begin streaming off the ferry before it’s even come to rest.

And yes, all the larger vehicles here must now back out and down the narrow ramp to dry land.

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A view looking back towards the city.

We’re excited to find a local fish joint and grab beers along the bank to catch the sunset over the city.

We head down this road a bit but don’t find anything matching that description.

We try another alleyway much closer to the water and encounter this interesting Catholic church, but not much else.

We continue poking down every narrow alleyway we can squeeze into but can’t find a single local eatery selling anything. We haven’t been having much luck crossing rivers lately.

Finally, we scour the one place we haven’t yet — the actual river bank — with the same result.

It seems that Phnom Penh does really well at catering to Westerners, local elites, and Chinese workers along its waterways, but no longer offers basic, thatch, ma and pa restaurants and bars along the river.

Which is quite sad, as that was one of our favorite aspects of living in Vientiane (and one of the big draws for us for living in Southeast Asia).

We thought for sure by venturing across the river, we’d find some dude in town offering up grilled fish, a canned beverage, and a few plastic chairs. But that’s not to be, at least not on this visit.

Still, it’s a nice day to be on the water, and a welcome break from the city’s hustle bustle. If only for an hour or so.

We end up on a much larger double-ended ferry for the return service. No need to back off over a precarious plank on these babies.



The ferry we took on our outbound journey, making it’s way, yet again across the Mekong.

Sunset booze cruises, Phnom Penh style. I kind of want to go on one, just so I can walk the plank and board through the golden Naga hatch.

Night falls fast in these parts.

07 Dec 2019
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Shirley NorthcraftJANICE M FULLERTON Recent comment authors
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Shirley Northcraft
Shirley Northcraft

Keep those postings coming. Loved the photos on the boat.


Love the pictures of Lori and you with the boys. The first ferry would have scared me a bit with the overcrowding ( to me ). Glad you found the flotation devices and exit doors!!