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VIP visit: Cambodian Prime Minister steps aboard Mekong Pandaw

Everyone who boards one of our unique ships gets a warm Pandaw welcome, whatever their background, and that includes the Prime Minister of Cambodia HE Hun Sen.

The enduring strongman of Cambodian politics paid a surprise visit to the RV Mekong Pandaw earlier this month while she was moored at Kampong Cham, up river of the capital Phnom Penh.

On this brief courtesy call, Hun Sen, or to give him his full title Samdech Akeak Moha Sena Padey Techo (Lord Prime Minister, Supreme Military Commander) Hun Sen, accompanied by a large retinue of minders, took the time to chat to the crew, pose for selfies, share a few ribald remarks about his political rivals, and ring the ships' bell.

Like all practiced politicians (and few have had more practice than him), Hun Sen took the trouble to ask intelligent questions about the operational workings of the Mekong Pandaw, and about Pandaw in general: How big was the crew? What's the pay like? What route does it follow? In full man-of-the-people mode, he shared a few salty or ribald pleasantries, much to the crew's amusement.

Cambodian Prime Minister steps aboard Mekong Pandaw

One of Asian politics' greatest survivors, Hun Sen undoubtedly remains a controversial figure in Cambodia or internationally. He has after all been in power since 1993 (apart from a break from 1997-1998), and recently declared that, being in good health, he has every intention of staying in post until he is 74 years old.

As he is currently only 64, this proposed extension of what is already one of Asia's longest-serving premierships is not to everyone's liking, and he does face significant opposition. Clearly he still feels the need to “press the flesh” with as many Cambodian voters as possible, hence his visit to our crew.

Hun Sen owes his political longevity to a large degree of what might politely be described as adaptability, tenacity, an eye for an opportunity, and a willingness to play hardball with opponents.

Born Hun Nal in 1954, the son of (relatively) rich peasants in Kompong Cham, Hun Sen was one of the many young and naive recruits of the murderous revolutionaries the Khmer Rouge, though he fled to Vietnam following one of their many internal purges, and flourished after the KR's overthrow by the Vietnamese. His intelligence and street-savviness saw him rise to being a spectacularly youthful foreign minister and then prime minister in the pre-UN elections, Vietnamese-backed regime.

Since then, suffice it to say that Hun Sen has bulldozed his way through the sometimes dramatic ups and downs of Cambodian politics but he is not so untouchable that he can ignore the popular will. He does set some store by retaining the common touch, hence his surprise visit to mingle with the crew of Mekong Pandaw during her stop over at Kampong Cham.

Pandaw has thrived in some complex environments by steering clear of any political links in any of the countries where we operate, but we like to see the PMs surprise visit as an implicit recognition of the contribution we make to Cambodia's high-end tourism economy.

Click here to view all our expeditions in Cambodia

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