Cardamom mountains is the second largest virgin rain forest in SE Asia, the largest being n Myanmar. There’s a village to the south of these mountains called Chi Phat. Before 2006, there wasn’t a single foreign tourist that visited this village and most of the locals survived on farming and hunting. Then the village became part of an eco-tourism project to help support the local villagers by finding alternative and sustainable means of income.
I arrived in Chi Phat after a 4.5hr bus journey from Phnom Penh to Andoung Tuek and a further 45min bike ride on the dirt roads leading to the village. Despite being very tired, I could appreciate the beauty of the lush green forests and the mountains that stretched all around me.
Joel joined me too from Koh Kong. After reading through a multitude of trekking and biking packages we settled on a 32km, 2.5day jungle trek with 2 nights in the forest. There’d be no running water, no electricity and we’d be sleeping in hammocks! Less than a week ago, on my first day in Kampot, I was super grumpy coz there was no water in the hostel and I would not be able to take my 2 showers a day. And now, I was excited about the jungle trek even though that probably meant no showers for the next few days!
The first day in Chi Phat we stayed with a local family in their home (called Homestay) some 2kms away from the village.
The village has electricity only a few hours a day and we went to the homestay expecting the same. Turns out they were too far out to have electricity! So we had to go back to the village center to charge our phones and use Wi-Fi. By the time we got back it was dark, so we ate dinner cooked by the family. Luckily they had a bulb than ran on a generator so we could see what we were eating. After that it was time to take one last shower before the trek which was essentially, standing outside the house in darkness, wrapped in a cloth, and pouring some jugs of water over my head. At least I got to see a sky full of brilliant stars!
We started the trek at 5:30am. 2 other guys, Ben and Manu, had joined us too. We also had a local guide and a cook with us. We started with a 2hr boat ride, on which all the guys fell asleep, but I stayed up as the jungle around us was beautiful and the water so clean!
We then switched from the motor boat to a row boat for a 30min boat ride to see some birds and gibbons. We heard some gibbons and saw some birds but other than that it was just a quiet ride on the boat. We then started our 10km walk in a leech infested jungle! It was the first time I was seeing leeches and they are these tiny, wriggly, creepy little things that just made me shriek out every time I got one on my legs! I was the only one screaming like a nutter, rest of the guys were just flicking them off their clothes or shoes! The walk itself was great, there was hardly a trail most of the times and without our guide we would never be able to find our way!
Half way through we stopped by an almost dried up waterfall, where the cook prepared lunch and some coffee. I was still too terrified of the leeches to be able to relax fully and then there was also the matter of peeing in the jungle which was a terrifying idea coz I didn’t want any leeches, you know, down there! But after lunch I started to enjoy the walk more, I start looking around me instead of just at my feet. I started to soak in the nature, to enjoy being in the jungle, something I’ve never done before!
At the end of the day, we reached the first camp site. After relaxing and putting up our hammocks, we were called for dinner. This was my favourite part about the jungle trek and also one of the best evenings I’ve had on my travels so far. It was 6 of us, from different parts of the world, sitting on a bamboo picnic table illuminated by 2 candles, eating delicious dinner, surrounded by the dark jungle which was alive with the noise from insects. We exchanged a lot of stories, learned about each other, about the Khmer culture, about Chi Phat before and after the eco-tourism project and about the lives of our guides. It was, like Ben said, “magical”. After a few hours though, we were ready to sleep in our super comfy hammocks.
We started the day with some noodles and coffee and set out on what turned out to be a very easy walk. It was still through the jungles and there were still many leeches but my panic of the day before had turned into frustration and I angrily flicked them off every time I got some on my clothes.
We were super excited about the next camp site as we were supposed to be by a water fall and we were all desperate to get into the water which is the first thing we did when we reached at around 1pm. Looking back, the water was not very clean but we were so dirty that we didn’t think anything off it before we started washing ourselves! I made do with sitting at the shallowest end while the guys enjoyed their high dives off the cliff!
After this we had nothing much to do for the rest of the day so we just talked, ate, relaxed and talked some more. This night wasn’t as good as the first because we were joined by a group of 50 college students!! Goes without saying, it was very noisy and nothing like the ‘night in the jungle’ experience we expected.
This was the toughest day for me and a few others. The 14km walk was not so bad but we didn’t have the cover of the jungle and walking that distance in the heat was not fun. We also didn’t have anything to snack on after breakfast at 6:30am We took more frequent breaks along the walk and were very relieved when we finally stopped for lunch at 1pm, 11kms later. After that it was another 3kms to the village which was better as we were well fed and it had turned cloudy so we didn’t have the sun beating down on us. We were all super happy to have finished the trek.
This trek is definitely one of the highlights of my trip! It was my first jungle trek and the first time I slept outdoors. The food prepared in the jungle was delicious throughout! The group and the conversations were superb, something that made the 3 days fly by!
Once back to the village, I rewarded myself by staying in a hut which had electricity, running water, an actual shower and a fan! It was great to be back to civilization!
P.S. I don’t have many pictures for the trek just yet but will add more as soon as I get some from others in the group!