Mekong Peril: Kampong Cham’s Dancers Keep Diabolic Forces at Bay

The Mekong River cuts a sizable swathe through Southeast Asia. Laos; Thailand; Vietnam; Cambodia: all are held in the thrall of its serpentine ebb and flow. Should the traveller move anywhere in the direct vicinity they’ll feel its influence; sometimes in not so subtle ways. Strange vibrations emanate from the Mekong River.

Krong Kampong Cham is one of Cambodia’s lesser-heralded towns. Without the grandeur of Angkor Wat or the history of Phnom Penh, this quaint riverside town marinades contentedly on the banks of the Mekong. In fact, the river cuts through the town’s heart: on either side of the swaying bridge lay countless examples of French colonial architecture. Superficially at least the mood is calm and congenial. The heat haze casts a pleasingly nostalgic glow over Kampong Cham.

Caught in the thrall

Not so in the river’s depths, where bleaker forces stir. The gurgling churn expands, whirlpools form and – in the precognitive visions of the town’s more attuned visionaries – great formless somethings rise from the river to claim dominion. That is unless….

On the riverbanks, a troupe of dancers gyrate as one, their chants and patterns designed with one purpose: to ease the quell and soothe whatever causes it. Their frenzied machinations bring to mind some kind of balletic blur, the fervour of their movements indicating how much is at stake. Fail, and who knows what will fall.

But once again, the Kampong dancers succeed. The river eases, its soundless chaos receding into memory. Barely a soul has noticed the change; the spirits will not show themselves today. Normality prevails once more until the struggle begins again tomorrow.

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