Monday, January 23

Cambodia highlights – the Mekong River

After leaving Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, we cruised up-river on the RV Mekong Pandaw.
The Mekong floods every year in the monsoon season between July and November, but this year the effects of Typhoon Nesat made the flooding more widespread and longer lasting, and about 200 people were drowned.
The villagers who live along the banks of the river are mostly subsistence farmers and fishermen; evidence of fishing was everywhere but many of the fields were still under water and this was expected to lead to food shortages.
Kampong Cham is the third largest city in Cambodia with a population of about 60,000.
We saw a boatload of men practising for boat races at the annual water festival. The water festival celebrates the reversing flow between the Tonle Sap and the Mekong River. It takes place at full moon usually in November. However the 2011 festival was cancelled because of the floods - many of the people who would have been crewing the boats were from flood-hit provinces where they were needed to help amid the disaster.

Friday, January 20

Two cruise ships visit Rarotonga

Two cruise ships visited Rarotonga yesterday, the Seabourn Odyssey (the white ship in the video) with 422 passengers and 346 crew and the (Holland America Line) Rotterdam with 1335 passengers and 585 crew.
We get six to ten cruise liner visits a year but it’s three or four years since we last had two here at the same time.
They were lucky with the weather; it was generally fine with just a shower or two in some places, great for trips around the island, shuttle buses to Muri lagoon or just wandering around town and checking out the souvenir vendors who set up stalls in the western marina where the ships’ tenders unloaded visitors. (It rained heavily last night and today it’s overcast but still warm, about 28C.)
Both ships anchored quite a long way from the shore. Maybe they were being extra cautious after the Costa Concordia disaster in Italy. The ocean floor drops away quickly beyond the reef, no rocks out there to hit, so perhaps it was just because of the swell. There are times when the sea is too rough for the tenders to make it to shore but the on-going harbour extensions and a proposed new landing area in Arorangi might resolve this problem.
Let’s hope so, because cruise ships and their passengers are welcome visitors here.

Friday, January 13

Flashback to Te Maeva Nui trade days

Te Maeva Nui celebration DVDs for the following years are on sale from the Cook Islands Ministry of Culture.
2005: E maeva, ka akararangi I te kapauaanga o toku basileia (Rejoice and celebrate the founding of my nation).
4-disk package $50
2006: E ariki kua tutara, ariki atu ei I tona koutu (An invested chief, reigning over his people).
4-disk package $50
2007: Totou’anga taeanga evangelia ki toou matakeinanga (Prphecy of the arrival of Christianity to your island or tribe).
4-disk package $50
2008: E vaine toa e tangata kama’atu (A woman of courage, a person of wisdom).
4-disk package $50
2009: Akonoanga manuiri (Traditional hosting).
4-disk package $50
2010: Te au tuatua pakari o toku matakeinanga (The wise sayings of my village and community).
4-disk package $50
2011: Te au akairo o toku matakeinanga (The signs of my community).
4-disk package $50
Post and packing will be extra - contact the ministry for details. If I find out how much p&p will cost I'll post it online.
Also available: Katikati’a and At’I Ve’e legends musical productions and Te Mira Tama, Te Mira A’tu and Dancer of the Year productions.
Cook Islands Ministry of Cultural Development. Phone 20725 ext 214. Email

Sunday, January 8

Cambodia highlights – Wat Hanchey

Wat Hanchey is about 20km up the Mekong River from the provincial town of Kompong Cham.
As soon as the MV Mekong Pandaw dropped anchor at the muddy landing area large numbers of small children appeared and joined our group as we walked to the temple along a path, part dirt and part concrete with inset steps.
The temple complex sits on top of a hill with good views of the river - when the weather is fine. Unfortunately our visit coincided with low clouds followed by heavy rain so visibility was limited!
The oldest part of Wat Hanchey dates from the 7th or 8th century, before the glory days of the Khmer empire when Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom were built in the 12th century. It’s a weather-worn red brick edifice but crowded all around are more recent temples, pagodas, stupas, houses and statues. The statues are weird; they depict mythical heroes and creatures, wild and domestic animals, a huge variety of fruit … and three sausages on a stick (local fast-food vendors sell these from motorised carts – the real thing not large plaster facsimiles).
I was expecting Wat Hanchey to be an isolated ruin but in fact it’s a thriving religious site, home to many young monks. When the Khmer Rouge ruled the country, between 1975 and 1979, most of Cambodia’s Buddhist monks were murdered and nearly all of the country’s wats (more than 3000) were damaged or destroyed. Many have since been restored with funds raised by villagers, and young novice monks in bright saffron robes are a common sight. All Buddhist males are expected to spend some time as a monk sometime in their lives although nowadays it may only be for a short time, one or two weeks even. It’s a way to acquire merit and reduce the number of reincarnations needed before they achieve nirvana.
The rain turned into a monsoon-like downpour. We left the tour guides and wandered around the area on our own until a Pandaw crewman told us there was another way down the hill. This was longer but wound through fields with the white cows that you see everywhere in the Cambodian countryside. Actually the cows were also all over the road – another thing you see all over Cambodia - but there wasn’t much traffic so it wasn’t a problem as long as you kept an eye open for the droppings!

Wednesday, January 4

Chong Koh village, Cambodia

Season’s greetings. I hope everyone has a safe and happy year.
The weather around Christmas was atrocious on Rarotonga; it rained heavily for about a week and on one day at least we had over 100mm. It wasn’t cold rain but you’ve still got to feel sorry for the holidaymakers who were looking forward to a sunny tropical island paradise and ended up with daily downpours.
Still, it gave me the opportunity to get back to some holiday videos of my own.
This one is from the journey on the MV Mekong Pandaw, a river boat that travels along the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia.
After leaving the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, the boat motored further upstream to Kampong Cham, stopping for a morning for an excursion to Chong Koh village.
The blurb describes Chong Koh as a ‘typical Khmer river community, which is famous for its weaving production’.
It’s probably not all that typical any more since a large number of cruise boats visit it every week. However, the people are still charming and friendly as they attach themselves to individual passengers and set about selling souvenirs.
The Bhuddist temple (wat) in the village is ornate and well cared for and has a monastery with quite a few young monks. (We saw lots of monks in Cambodia but very few in Vietnam.)
The primary school is run-down with not much in the way of resources but the children are delightful. The ones in the video are about 9-years-old. We took along some pens, pencils and notepads to add to their supplies.
Our guide asked one pair what their ambitions were: the boy wanted to work for government, the girl in a garment factory.
There are two school sessions each day so many of the kids who sell weaving in the morning will be going to school in the afternoon.
Primary education is free but uniforms are compulsory so some of the poorer families might not be able to send their children to school and very often once the kids can read, write and calculate they will leave school, but everywhere we went we saw schools and schoolchildren; they were especially noticeable in bike-loads on the roads round about midday which is the change-over time for school sessions.