A Cambodian village ripped apart by a bad batch of rice wine

In rural Cambodia, dozens of people have died in recent months after drinking toxic home-brewed alcohol. In the village of Thnong in Kampot province, a bad batch consumed at a funeral left tragedy in its wake.

Prom Vannak, 50, would rarely go a day without at least a few glasses of rice wine, especially after a serious motorcycle accident that left him unable to work as a fisherman.

So when his uncle Muth – who was also a big drinker – passed away in May, there was no doubt that the funeral would be spent drinking and reminiscing with friends and family in the village.

Vannak started drinking that morning and fell asleep early in the evening. When he woke up the following day, he told his wife he didn’t feel right.

“He told me he felt very tired and that when he drank the wine it made his eyes feel drowsy,” Hun Pheap recalled.

Pheap didn’t think too much of it, and returned for the second day of the funeral. Vannak stayed at home to sleep off what they thought was just a bad hangover.

But by that evening, Vannak had started shaking and violently throwing up. Pheap tried to persuade her husband to go to the local hospital but he refused, saying he just needed rest. The following morning he was dead.

“He opened his mouth to try to send a message to his mother and children,” Pheap said. “His tears were falling, he was passing away. He could only open his mouth but could not talk.”

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