A Once In A Lifetime Experience

Sauna And A Plunge Into The Mekong River

The Finnish sauna in Phnom Penh riverfrontOne of the most memorable days during our travels was definitely the Cambodian-Finnish friendship day in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The festivities included sauna bath, a plunge into the nearby River Mekong, and meeting of Santa Claus. Here is a detailed story of the great day when we felt like kings. During the 2.5 years of our travels 3 times around the world we have never experienced such a genuine and unselfish hospitality.

We met the chairman of the newly established Cambodian-Finnish Friendship Society (CFFS), Mr. Prasat Kravan by a lucky accident in the street. He immediately recognized that we were speaking Finnish and invited us to the first ever friendship day. Mr. Kravan has chaired the Society during the two years of its existence. He has never been to Finland yet, but he plans to pay a visit to the North in December. He is eagerly waiting to see, touch and feel real snow. He is also very enthusiastic to be able to learn to skate and try ice-swimming. His only worry is the unstableness of Finnish winter. What if there is no snow and ice in December? Mr Kravan will not travel to the far north, Lapland, but will stay in Jämsä which is far more affordable.

Mr. Kravan sitting is his cool NGO car Real Santa in Cambodia was almost surrealAccording to Mr. Kravan Cambodians are very interested in Finns and welcome them warmly. The society is planning to initiate a Khmer language course in Finland for free. "It will bring our two nations closer together and create necessary basis for future social and commercial relations" he told us.

We got a sightseeing around Phnom Penh in Society’s brand new SUV. The ride was pleasant as Mr Kravan was not trying to intimidate poor pedestrians like other representatives of NGOs. He stopped at a couple of schools, and so we got a chance to tell children about Finland. What an eager and enthusiastic audience they were! Children wanted to touch us and hear if we had met Santa Claus. Well, thank God we had, and also the children got a chance to present their Christmas gift wishes directly to the real Santa that CFFS had hired for the occasion. Children were at first a bit shy, but soon wanted to sit on Santa’s lap and try to pull off his white beard. We laughed and enjoyed every single second.

We really felt like kings for one day as we were—unfortunately—the only Finns present. Everybody was hugging us and giving presents. School children had prepared a lot of presents for Santa and they also gave us many of their drawings and handcrafts. If we only had known about the festivities beforehand, we would have invited our friends over and also people from the neighbouring Scandinavian countries. Cambodia is a peaceful country and the price level is very pleasant, which should attract more tourists in the future. The Cambodian-Finnish Friendship Society CFFS has attracted a great number of Cambodians, and Mr. Prasat expects his organization to grow even further.

The sauna heater was made in Cambodia with a good luck signCambodians sitting in the saunaThe absolute highlight of the day was a sauna bath in a genuine, wood-heated Finnish sauna that had been constructed by the Mekong river in the heart of Phnom Penh. Locals and foreigners were welcome to try it. Some locals dared to peek inside, but those who went in did not take off their clothes. Santeri enjoyed sauna in the traditional Finnish way and even took a refreshing plunge into the Mekong River. His nudity seemed to be quite exotic to locals who did not stop staring at him until he put his clothes back on. The otherwise traditional sauna had also some ultra-modern technology. Mr. Kravat put on the lights with a text message. Unfortunately it is not yet possible to send text messages in Cambodia, so he had to call to Finland and ask his friend to send the message for him. This great mobile technology was provided by the leading Finnish mobile phone manufacturer Motorola.

The only thing missing was Santeri’s Finnish favourites, ammonium chloride sweets called "salmiakki" in Finnish. Mr. Kravan had ordered these special sweets from Finland, but unfortunately the delivery never reached Cambodia. "I guess we didn’t pay enough bribes", Mr. Kravan sighed with a twinkle in his eyes. We laughed at his joke as there has not been any signs of black market or corruption in Cambodia. All things are taken care of officially unlike in many other South-East Asian countries.

The last but not least climax of the marvellous day was the unveiling of a massive new statue. It was Lenin´s head donated by the Lenin Museum of Tampere, Finland. The huge stone figure was placed on top of a marble stand which also serves as the memorial of Khmer Rouge liberation battle. The statue is the only Lenin statue left in the world outside Finland and Russia. Cambodians expect it to be an internationally recognised sight, just like the Finnish Lenin Museum after the collapse of Soviet Union and the deliberation Baltic countries.

Great sauna, Santeri commented.A truly unique sauna view on Angkor Temples!We want to thank the Cambodian-Finnish Friendship Society and especially Mr. Kravan for his tremendous hospitality! We sincerely hope that the Society will get new Cambodian and Finnish members and lots of donations. The society was founded in 2005, and it is currently funded by Finnish donations and Mr. George Soros. The society has decided to make the Finnish friendship day an annual tradition. We have promised to Mr. Kravan to support this great idea and promise to return for the celebrations every year. We also promised to convey the humble wish of CFFS to all our readers. For the celebrations of 2008, the society hopes to get many second hand skis and skates as donations. Mr. Kravan is planning to construct a small artificial ice rink to the river Mekong so that Cambodians can try traditional and healthy Finnish winter sports.

CFFS headquarters welcomes you warmly!

If you are interested in joining the Cambodian-Finnish Friendship Society, please contact Mr. Prasat Kravan, tel. 023-19291912, e-mail pkravan@gmail.com, or pay a visit at CFFS headquarters in 128st 46A, 2. fl, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Unfortunately, the society does not have web pages yet.

Oh, we almost forgot ... happy April Fools day! The sauna was not even warm enough, and the society does have their own web pages :)

Did you like this April Fool? Tell about this truly extraordinary happening to your friends and media. This way as many people as possible can enjoy the fruits of this truly unique Cambodian-Finnish from of international co-operation.

Päivi & Santeri


  1. http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/eCEgATOZukWquEmWpSXKBQ?authkey=Gv1sRgCLSlu_mX8pWxSw&feat=directlink

    Probably this is the body of the head of Lenin :) It stands outside "Red Square" bar in Las Vegas, Nevada.


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