I was lucky to be staying at The Kabiki (www.thekabiki.com) in Phnom Penh on a Friday, when the hotel occasionally offers a complimentary Mekong Sunset River Cruise to its clients, and when I was informed of this, I put my name down immediately.
So on that Friday at 5pm, I was put on one of the thousands of Phnom Pen traditional tuk tuks and jetted away amongst the traffic towards the passenger port, located in the town waterfront, where I boarded a lovely, refurbished rice wooden boat called the Butterfly.
On board, the small and affable guide Theavy introduced me to the rest of the customers, asked me what drink I would prefer, and served it for me while the boat driver started the journey. The boat is the right size, not too big not too small, partly covered and partly open air, the front area accommodating the driver while the back is an open deck with a sitting area and a comfortable lounging deck with cushions for chilling out. As we distanced from the riverfront, the sun still warm on our skin, we observed with interest the approaching of a bend where the Tonle Sap River meets with the mighty Mekong, and listened to Theavy information on the history of the river area. A nice river breeze caressed us while we carelessly sipped our beers and listened to Theavy and to lounge music played by the good sound system on board.
The boat kept travelling south at low pace, captained by a young chap that maneuvered the old wooden wheel at the bow; en route, we crossed path with several huge dredging barges carrying full loads of sand used in the booming building sector, and small fishing boats where fishermen and their families smiled and waved at us. We sailed past the southern tip of the Chroy Changva, part of an island by the Mekong right across Phnom Penh riverside, and finelly reached one of the floating fishing villages of the Cham community, where most people live on picturesque and colourful floating bungalows, with only a few inhabiting tin and wood shacks on the land. We stopped enough time to take a few pictures, observe the locals doing their chores and looking astonished at a huge local ferry commuting a tide of people from Phnom Penh riverside, discharging them and their bicycles, bikes and even a few cars from its huge front mouth. Theavy informed us the inhabitants of these villages are mainly sea-gypsies from the Malaysian area and have no passport but have been allocated this area by the local government. They are mainly Muslim fishermen, grow vegetables in the fields provided and commute daily to sell in the Phnom Penh city markets.
The sun was lowering as we made our way backwards along the same route, only now the captain steered the boat west towards the other side of the Tonle Sap River in order to navigate along a coast where dozens of long and lean wooden boats were stationing and functioning as makeshift homes for their inhabitants, mainly ethnic Vietnamese making a living as fishermen, primarily supplying the country’s markets.
As the Butterfly sailed back towards town, we sipped another beer and enjoyed the change of temperature; the sun was finally setting at the horizon behind the city’s colonial sites, its busy riverside and the modern town with its glittering lights and tall skyscrapers that are turning Phnom Pen from a sleepy underpopulated town to a number one financial and tourist destination. I was lucky to experience a grey and yellow sunset over the skyline and behind the Koh Pich island, where the Bassac River, a distributary watercourse of the Tonle Sap River and the Mekong River, starts its course, and to end another day in magical Cambodia, ready for a dinner of Amok and Anchor beer and for the next day’s new adventures.
This is indeed a very pleasant way to spend time cruising and seeing Phnom Penh from a different angle. Floating bungalows, rivers, traditional fishing villages, busy local ferries, all is part of the contrast between the traditional and the modern. The boat is attractive and with comfortable seats, with a great cushioned raised area at the stern which is the perfect place to relax and take photos. The boat is small yet despite of this it does not feel overcrowded. The complimentary tuk tuk pick up and delivery to the ferry (one way only) and the free drink and snacks complete the goodness of the whole experience. Superb.
THE BUTTERFLY RICE BOAT
Cruises are operated by The Kabiki beautifully restored rice boat “Butterfly”. The Butterfly is bringing novel sophistication to sunset cruises in Phnom Penh. The boat can accommodate up to 20 guests and is complete with a toilet.
The range of cruises include:
– Sunset Cruise and Romantic Aperitif, 17.00 to 18.00 pm, $15 per person
- Sunrise Cruise and Scenic Breakfast, 5,30 to 6,30 am, $15 per person
- Silk Island Cruise and Picturesque Countryside, 8,00 to 12,00 am or 12,30 to 16,30 pm, $30 per person
- Dining on the Mekong at the Floating Bungalows, 18.30 to 20.30 pm, $38 per person
The Butterfly collects its guests from the Phnom Penh passenger port opposite street #104, next to the Titanic Restaurant. For bookings and information, you can contact The Kabiki at www.thekabiki.com or check www.phnompenhactivities.asia
Asian Itinerary was accommodated by: