|Our Mekong-style scientific vessel, AKA traditional river boat|
|Preparing equipment for water sampling|
|Dredge barges on the Tonle Sap - full (blue) and empty (green)|
The Mekong River, like many rivers in the world, is under continuous assault. Its anthropogenic uses are myriad – water supply, habitat for hundreds of fish species, including critical food for more than 60 million people who live in the river basin, hydropower, wastewater disposal, transportation, cultural practices and recreation. In Cambodia, where agriculture has been the economic base for centuries, it is hard to say that deforestation in the watershed is greater than in the past but that is what the Cambodians told us. That plus the significant increase in urban development in and around Phnom Penh is creating many changes in runoff, river chemistry and in the habitat quality for local fish species. A curious new phenomenon is the dredging of river bottom sand for filling wetlands around the city – a fact we experienced directly in the continuous stream of rusty powered barges moving upstream full of sand and returning empty downstream to the dredging site on the Mekong. The new ‘land’ created from the filled wetlands will be used for new building – eliminating the wetlands’ natural functions of stormwater infiltration and water quality treatment. The loss has already resulted in widespread street flooding and reduced water quality following the smallest of rainfalls.
|Housing along the Tonle Sap|
|Taditional fishing boats and modern buildings|
|Mekong style fishing "house" boat|
|Ready to eat along the river|
We stopped in the early afternoon at a riverside restaurant for a delicious meal of fish soup, rice and green papaya salad. The meal, where we sat cross-legged at low tables set on platforms built over the river, was one of the best meals we had in Phnom Penh.
Unfortunately I had bad luck with contaminated food on our last night in Cambodia following a meal at an upscale restaurant. Folks always warn you about eating in local river establishments. But that wasn't where I got food poisoning. I guess it can happen anywhere but suffice it to say it was a most unpleasant experience.
|The Throne Hall|
After lunch our group visited the Royal Palace (where the current royal family lives) complex and the exotic Silver Pagoda home to the intricately carved 17th century Emerald Buddha. It is illegal to take interior photographs of these sacred places but the famous silver tile floor that gives the Silver Pagoda its name is extraordinary. Who can imagine covering the floor of a very large hall with silver tiles? I guess you have to be royalty! The gleaming floor, the benevolent Emerald Buddha and the many silver and solid gold, often with encrusted diamonds, Buddhas make a visit to the Pagoda worthwhile. The whole complex, built starting in 1863 when the capital of Cambodia moved to Phnom Penh, is an excellent example of traditional Khmer architecture.
|The Stupa of HM King Suramarit and|
HM Queen Kossomak