My dear friends Hailey and Tanya came to visit me in Cambodia for five nights. Their experience here was much different from most. We started in Phnom Penh, but then decided on a whim to visit the eco-tourism site Chi-Phat, located in the foothills of the Cardamom Mountains, in Koh Kong province.
First we started with a five-hour bus ride to Koh Kong from Phnom Penh. We got off at the second major bridge, an area called Andoung Tuek, and then took a small boat for two hours up the river “Preak Phiphot” . . . it was loud, slow, but beautiful.
Once we arrived at the village, we enjoyed a slower pace of life than we expected. We stayed in a home stay the first night, and a guest house the second night. Like other villages in Cambodia, the homes are mostly made of wood, elevated, and the properties are guarded by dogs, the occasional cat, and plenty of chicken. The dog fights at night are particularly loud and distracting, but complementary to some of the heaviest rains I’ve encountered in Cambodia.
The village is located on several roads, with the main road pictured below, the artery of the town. This road extends for about 7 kilometers and then narrows and turns into small paths that lead to even smaller communities of farmers and forest people.
While we did not see much wildlife, there were plenty of bulls that kept our attention. Luckily they were all tied up and very safe. I loved the contrast of the gray skin/hair with the greens of the forest.
As people who have traveled in Post-Colonial Southeast Asia know, there are some communities that love foreigners and non-locals, and some that have uncertainty and even disdain for them. Like anywhere else, I suppose. The villagers of Chi Phat were significantly all over the board. Many of them were friendly–saying “Hello” and “Bye Bye” as we passed on our bicycles. Many of them looked at us and scowled. Regardless, the community of people in this area was very active. From badminton to bubble blowing, the children seemed to have fun, and the adults seemed to spend as much time enjoying leisure activities as going to work in their farms or on the river.
We arrived in the afternoon on the first day, which we spent resting and walking around the village. There isn’t that much to “do” in Chi Phat itself, aside from eating Cambodian food and hanging out with locals who probably will show you their baby a billion times and try to get them to wave at you. The real joy of Chi Phat is being near so many great outdoor features. We spent our second day biking to the Omalu waterfall, about 14 kilometers one way outside of town. I hadn’t gone mountain biking since I was a kid, so this was very nostalgic (and super fun) for me.
At the waterfall, we were completely drenched in sweat. I took off my clothes to go swimming and moments later a bright blue butterfly managed to find my salty sock and indulge. The butterfly was so fiendishly affixed to its consumption that it basically let me stroke its wings. I had to shake the sock almost violently to get the butterfly to go away so I could put it back on my foot!
Omalu waterfall is a huge feature on this little river outside of the village. Though we couldn’t find a way to swim in the main area, we did swim just above it. I had to use Photoshop in the picture below because the lighting was so bad, so it obviously looks edited.
The Chi Phat forests are quite beautiful and had some amazingly obscure trees I had never seen before, like this one, which almost looks cancerous in its bulbous nature.
Our final moments at Chi Phat were on a little ferry that crossed from one side of the river to the other, and could hold one car or maybe half a dozen motos. This picture demonstrates how much I’ve physically aged in the past year.
After getting across the river, we took a moto taxi back to the main high way to get picked up by a bus to go back to Phnom Penh. It was beautiful Koh Kong provincial scenery, and perhaps one of my favorite landscapes in Cambodia, right there at the bottom of those Cardamoms.
All in all, I would recommend anyone visit Chi Phat, though the space itself will feel meditative and almost small in terms of activities and excitement. That might be its greatest charm as a way to escape the pressures of modern society that plague most of Cambodia.