“When I accepted the temporary job offer aboard Jayavarman, it was only supposed to be for a couple weeks. Little did I know this opportunity was going to change the rest of my life,” bartender Ms. Ngim cheerfully recounts while mixing a strawberry mojito.
The moment she had first set foot on board, she was destined to not just begin a career with Heritage Line, but also find true love.
Organization for Basic Training
Like her colleague, Mr. Chhai Eang, Ngim is one of Jayavarman’s seven graduates from the Organization for Basic Training. OBT is a non-profit organization located in the small, Cambodian village of Chiro, and provides rural schoolchildren aged 7-17 a free, supplemental education in English, French, computers, music and dance. They also host several eco-friendly projects which benefit the local villagers, including promoting organic farming, providing a clean drinking water system, and recycling plastic waste with their “Plastic to Bricks” initiative.
Out of OBT’s 300 students, each year five lucky individuals are selected to enter the school’s special Pre-hospitality program. In addition to attending advanced English and hospitality classes, students gain practical hands-on experience with English-speaking tourists while earning a small salary. Two are selected to work at the on-site guesthouse property, learning to take reservations and the check-in/check-out processes. The remaining three individuals (including Ngim) join OBT’s Bamboo Restaurant, either sharpening their culinary skills or interacting directly with guests. After completion of this year-long program, many graduates choose to continue pursuing their education in the tourism industry at one of Siem Reap’s renowned NGO-run hotel schools, Sala Bai or EGBOK, while others are recruited directly by Heritage Line to join the crew aboard one of its lower Mekong vessels, The Jahan and Jayavarman.
Joining the Jayavarman Team
It was during a busy period in 2016 when Jayavarman cruises were fully booked. Because a few of the restaurant staff had taken a temporary leave of absence, a former OBT-classmate of Ngim recommended bringing her aboard on a short-term basis. “After her first day on the job, I just knew right then and there that we had to bring her onboard full-time,” recalls Jayavarman’s General Manager, Sentot Sutrisnadi. “She was very hardworking and especially kind to the crew and our guests. And her smile alone was enough to brighten the mood of any room she entered.”
Initially joining the Indochine Dining Hall team, Ngim would later become bartender of the adjacent Club 1930, a position she proudly keeps to this day. “Mixology is something I have really started to develop a passion for. We have a menu with the usual classic cocktails, but it’s exciting to experiment and learn which flavors complement each other. And it’s always such a pleasure to watch a passenger’s face light up when they take the first sip.”
A Match Made in Heaven
When asked if there was anything she looks forward to most during the week, Ngim beams widely and replies, “Tuesdays.”
Each Saturday, one of Heritage Line’s two lower Mekong vessels (The Jahan or Jayavarman) begins its 7-night journey from Saigon to Siem Reap, while the other sails in the opposite direction. And it is halfway between these two endpoints that the pair of ships hold their weekly reunion in Phnom Penh.
And so it was on a Tuesday, as Ngim was welcoming guests returning from their city tour, that Assistant General Manager of The Jahan introduced himself. Another victim had fallen prey to her captivating smile, and it was love at first sight for Mr. Raksmey. After exchanging contact information, the two would make an effort to see each other every time their vessels docked in Phnom Penh.
And a year later, their love was forever cemented when the lovebirds exchanged vows at their wedding ceremony. Though they are both still working aboard their respective ships (up until Coronavirus suspended cruising), Ngim and Raksmey – now with two beautiful children – make the most of their time together every week.
“Tuesdays are when I get to go home and cherish every moment with my husband and two little boys.”