Vanny left the main road and headed down a track past some villages. As he drove, the road got rougher and rougher. The rain began and soon it was very heavy. Ian was perched in the back seat, getting drenched to the skin. The road became a series of waterlogged potholes and slush, and it soon became obvious why Vanny and Sam had brought the Jeep. It bumped and churned its way from one boggy mudhole to the next as we left the villages behind and headed down the long road. To our left was a channel, which soon became a stream.
Eventually we reached a ramshackle collection of huts. We parked the Jeep and a group of kids ran to us peddling their goods. A young girl with a camera snapped our photos – we would see them displayed on plastic plates for sale when we returned to the jeep.
We boarded a boat and headed down the narrow channel. Before long, it was choked with water hyacinth. The boat ploughed through the floating plants, but the motor was labouring and black smoke was coming from the struggling engine. The boatman stopped the boat and went to the stern, where the propeller was hopelessly entangled with water hyacinth. He spent the next ten minutes removing the mess from the prop, even using a hacksaw and a tomahawk at one stage.
Eventually we were freed from the plants and as we motored down the stream it widened and we were in open waterway once again. Floating houses began to appear. There were people in them going about their business. Few paid us any attention. Some were tending their fishing nets, others minding small children. Boats passed us in both directions. This was the floating village of Mechrey. All residents of this village live on the water, moving their dwellings with the rise and fall of the water (Tonle Sap is an inland tidal system). We passed a floating school, a floating mechanic and several floating stores.
Eventually we stopped for a bite to eat and a drink at one floating dwelling that had a second storey. Sam opened a bottle of champagne. It was revealed that we were the first customers for his new travel company, so this was definitely a moment to celebrate. As the sun went down we chugged back to the boat’s mooring place and returned to the Jeep. It had not rained here for a while now and the road was a little easier to navigate on the journey home in the dark. It had been a memorable afternoon, with an opportunity to visit a way of life that few westerners will have the chance to see.