- Parkin Fellows
by Scout Spong
The island of Koh Thnot is a 17 kilometer island in the middle of the Mekong River, about an hour boat ride away from the mainland. Phiya is the guide of our trip and the names mentioned are my coursemates.
As the rooster crowed us awake for the last time, we rolled out of bed and placed our packs on our back to load up the boats just like we had done when we departed for the island. We enjoyed one last breakfast, cooked by our master chef. Some of us took family photos and hugged our island friends goodbye. Emily and I waved goodbye to our beloved house cat. We loaded the narrowboats and took off to the mainland. Before all the boats had taken off, one of the small village boys was strongly encouraged by his parents to join us on our adventure to Siem Reap. He hopped in the boat, no shoes nor anything but his body and the clothes on it. His spontaneity was inspiring and we welcomed him into our adventure. Phiya’s wife and baby joined us too. For Kamra (the small village boy) this was his first time off the island. I was excited for them to come with us because it meant we were still connected with the island. We sat in our narrowboats, heads down so the spray of the Mekong River and its parasites would not get into our mouths and said a sad bittersweet goodbye to the island.
Upon our arrival back on the mainland, we entered the 100 Pillar Pagoda. We sat and listened to Phiya tell stories about the pagoda and the stupas, glorified graves for monks and other high power Buddhists, that had lived within the 100 Pillar Pagoda. We then entered the main temple and were in awe of the intricately painted walls and ceilings with all the stories of the Buddha. Within the same pagoda, we visited the Mekong Turtle Conservation Center. We were able to see and hold baby soft-shelled turtles and lots of other kinds of turtles. For me, it was very interesting to see how involved MTCC was with education for rural villagers. It was even more moving when an episode of Animal Planet’s “River Monsters” was played showing the importance of this endangered river turtle’s conservation. I thought it was important for the future survival of many Cambodian species to educate the rural Cambodian population about their important role in the natural environment and decrease the over-exploitation and eradication of native fauna. I also thought it was a great implementation of a sustainable environmental project that I can use as inspiration when I return home. We then cooled off in a local street stand with fresh coconut water.
Our bus picked us up and we started towards civilization. We considered this our home base because it was where we stayed before we departed for the island. Phiya ordered quasi-American foods and we feasted. It was then time to rest and then we prepared ourselves for our afternoon tour back on the Mekong River. We traveled via tuk-tuk to the boat dock where we boarded new boats to search for the critically endangered Irrawaddy or Mekong River dolphins. While waiting for these animals to pop up from the water, I reflected on how waiting for beauty makes it a million times more rewarding. When the first dolphin popped its head out of the river, we were all so excited, but still tried to stay quiet and not scare them. After the boat ride, Phiya shared the growth and story behind the dolphins. I found it crazy that only 91 dolphins were alive today. It was also sad that I have never heard of this type of dolphin, but if I didn’t research Cambodia or go on this trip, I might not have been able to ever experience these animals due to the populations decreasing.
Next, we visited Sticky Rice Village, where we enjoyed a piece of bamboo filled with sticky rice. It was a good little snack and the surrounding area reminded me of the island we had left that morning. We concluded the day by eating a delicious dinner and drifting off to sleep.