When I was in Cambodia I was keen to experience some countryside and do some trekking so I headed out to an eco-tourism site called Chi Phat in the Koh Kong province in the heart of the Cardamom Mountains. It was a bit of a trek to get there from Phnom Penh – a five hour bus ride followed by a bumpy but exhilarating 40 minute off-road motorbike ride, backpack in tow, and finally a 2 minute “boat” ride to the other side of the river.
I’d reserved a home stay online through CBET (community based eco-tourism centre) but by complete chance, on arrival I got chatting to Tori from the Wildlife Alliance in Phnom Penh who was there with some volunteers to set-up their wildlife release tour running from the Phnom Tamao Wilidlife Rescue Centre just outside of Phnom Penh. She invited me to experience the tour as a guest so after a few rearrangements I found myself back on a motorbike on an even more off-road excursion through the jungle for 30 minutes to a clearing which revealed three gorgeous bungalows in the middle of nowhere.
So instead of two days of trekking I had a wonderfully relaxing two night stay in the peaceful surroundings of nature next to a wildlife release site. At the time I got to meet a beautiful sun bear, lots of exotic birds, monkeys and other fluffy creatures. We also went on a trek through the jungle so I still got to stretch my legs! The bungalows are situated near a stream and pool so there was somewhere to cool off too – just watch out for the leeches…
Back in Chi Phat village I spent a night in a “home stay”. Every time I do this I now expect the the same authenticity I was lucky enough to experience in Sapa. This time it was more like a guest house where I was left to my own devices but the family were still really lovely and the accommodation was great because it was still very rustic with plenty of pigs and chickens roaming around.
I took myself off on a bike ride to explore the local area. Chi Phat really is a great way to feel off the beaten track. Ok, so you might get the odd fellow traveller cycling past, but generally speaking, you’re out there on your own with lots of smiling villagers and waving school children.
The whole idea of this eco-tourism site is to provide the locals with a new way of making money (tourism) instead of animal poaching. It’s a great exchange – you get to experience the real Cambodia whilst helping them develop a sustainable way of living – just so long as the whole place doesn’t get overrun!