We needed the morning to do a spot of recovering after yesterday’s slightly alcoholic ‘day of rest’ (lol) but we also managed to book a bit of net fishing in on the Mekong for the afternoon’s entertainment which sounded quite novel. However, we had booked it online and it was one of those occasions when you are not sure if the transaction has actually gone through or not, so we walked on to our rendezvous point for the excursion with a little trepidation.
We waited and waited and even went into the restaurant we were told to stand outside to ask if they knew anything about our guide or the company he worked for and they seemed as perplexed as we did – Gulp! So we went back down onto the street to continue our vigil. Just then our guide ran up to us apologising profusely for being so late but it was all okay in the end, we were just happy that he had turned up. So he guided us over to the other side of the busy street, to the riverside and from here he beckoned our fishing boat over.
The boat, which looked to be a traditional design, soon enough came over and our captain put a plank across for us to walk over! Already walking the plank and yet he hardly knew us, it just seemed wrong (was he a pirate I wondered?) but with a bit of a hop, a skip and a scramble we were on board and soon enough setting off over the river to the fisherman’s favoured spot. Our boat was not just the fisherman’s workplace but it was also his and his family’s home. His lovely family consisted of his wife and their two young girls. The eldest little girl was disabled but they were all such a very beautiful family both inside and out. It was a boat with a simple rounded shelter over it and here in this simple dwelling that we were cramped into, they all worked and lived.
On this fishing trip we would not be using a rod and line, no folks this was would be the ‘real thing’, net fishing on the Mekong and believe me it does not get any better than this. Now it all sounded easy enough when our guide explained it to us but, as we were soon to find out, it was far from it, not even in the same country! The fisherman took us to one of his many spots and he then showed us the casting technique using his own big net. You basically gather the net all in together in a special way and then cast it forth by flinging your leading arm outwards whilst remembering to keep hold of the rope attached to the net so that it does not end up in the river along with the catch!
The fisherman then handed me over his ‘baby’ net, this as you can imagine was a good deal smaller than his own net and weighed a fair bit less too but that did not seem to help me out much. Either he is not that great at teaching or perhaps I am not that great a learner because I found it much more difficult than he had made it look. Liz and I both had a few goes and my only saving grace was that at least Liz was no better at throwing the net than I was, in fact she looked a bit more of a sure bet for following the net into the water. We had a few more tries and even managed to catch a couple of small fish along with some appetising cockles and snails (Not) and the odd sneaky twig or two but our fisherman easily won the competition for catching both the most fish and the biggest fish but even then the fish he caught still seemed somewhat small compared to what I expected, remembering that this was his livelihood.
Through our guide we asked the fisherman and his wife a few questions about their life on the Mekong. First question I had to ask was how long he had been fishing for and he had been at it from the age of ten! No wonder he was slightly better than me but I could not believe that this guy had been fishing for just so very long. I also asked if pollution of the river was having an effect on the fish and the size of the catch and I suppose we already knew the answer to that one and not just because we personally had failed to catch anything. The fisherman told us that year upon year the amount of fish and size of fish were reducing and it was becoming more and more difficult for them to make a living or even to land enough good fish for them to eat. The fisherman’s wife also told us a bit about their elder daughter who suffered with a form of meningitis which had caused her brain damage but what she had lost in terms of mobility she more than made up for with her smile and her laugh both of which were just lovely. In fact both the little girls were lovely and their parents must have had to think long and hard about whether or not to keep the daughter with meningitis as the support system for families in Cambodia who have children with physical or mental disabilities is almost non-existent. They must really have loved both their daughters as the girl with meningitis needed so much extra care and medicines and that would pose a big problem for the entire family – amazingly good good people.
As a devoted muslim, the fisherman left us to change from his fishing ‘attire’ into his Sunday best in order that he could then pray, which he did at the bow of the boat whilst we played with the little girls. The guide explained that the fisherman’s wife would cook us some fish later but that it would be fish the fisherman had caught earlier. If it had been left to us eating our ‘catch’ it would have made for a very measly offering indeed, all of it together would not have made a sandwich for a mouse! The lady then started to get her cooking stuff together which all just seemed to appear from various cubby holes in the boat’s deck, the area where at night they slept. Our guide told us that they even had a cooker and fryer below deck which they could use from above as well.
When he had finished praying the fisherman changed back into his working gear and then let me have a go with the man-sized net. I really was no better with it but overall we had not done too badly it was just that the fish were obviously just a bit too clever for us! Fishing over, we watched the wife getting our meal together whilst she kept the girls entertained so we had some time to have a bit of a chat with the guide. It appeared he was in the process of trying to better himself by going to university to study which made his guiding sideline all the more important. He explained the importance that Cambodians place in learning English, it all seems a bit strange to us with it being our mother tongue. We then had our fish which was really tasty and by this time were hungry and appreciative of our meal. The whole afternoon’s experience had been great and the family were just so very heart warming, you knew that their life was one which though simple, hardships would be commonplace but it did not stop them from being the very best people they could be and that to me was just amazing. We left them some money just as a bit of an extra thank you as our boat neared the mooring place and we bid them all a very warm goodbye. Once on land it just remained for us to say goodbye to our guide, he had been a great fellow and a good laugh as well.
This was our last full day in Phnom Penh and for us the entire place had been full of contradictions but it was a really good start to Cambodia. We followed the river for a bit of a walk before heading back to the hotel. It was an early night for us as tomorrow we would be moving on and like all bus journeys in South East Asia it would probably take its toll.