In addition to a stay in Stung Treng, this semester we added a visit the Ramsar Site on the Mekong River further upstream. This site is a 40 km stretch with a mixture of narrow islands (sometimes submerged), flooded forests, small and large channels with shallow and deep pools which are important as fish breeding areas. Once a refuge to such important species as the Giant Mekong Catfish (Pangasianodon gigas), the Irrawaddy Dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), and a breeding population of the critically endangered White-shouldered Ibis (Pseudibis davisoni) it is under threat from many sides, not least because of the dams constructed and under construction up-river. The Mekong dolphin may have disappeared already from this area.
We left for Kampot from Phnom Penh where we celebrated P’chum Ben, the festival of the dead, a time when Cambodian people remember their dead and make merit by donating food to the monks or give food directly to the spirits of past ancestors to ease their suffering or improve their circumstances in the afterlife. On arrival in Kampot we started on a much awaited (new) overnight stay with a community mangrove project, where our students met the local Cham (Islamic) community and learnt about their project to plant, grow, and protect mangroves. They also visited the Prey Nup mangrove restoration project, two contrasting efforts to ensure the return and stability of mangroves on the Kampot River.
We travelled on to Vietnam where we were hosted by Can Tho University in the south and then on to Saigon for one night before finishing in another new destination Cat Tien National Park. Cat Tien is a place of natural beauty and wildlife, home to one of the largest areas of surviving lowland tropical forests in Vietnam, grasslands, and riparian areas. Our students found many different species of exotic birds and learnt about some primate species such as gibbon that live there, as well as the struggles the park still faces on a daily basis.
At my time of writing our students are finishing off their Directed Research projects, having completed their final exams, and still talk at the dinner table of the many experiences they have shared. Next semester we welcome our new students to experience our ever-adapting and challenging (but fun!) monthlong trip around Cambodia and Vietnam, and hope they will enjoy it as much as our plucky band of students did this semester.