ADVENTURING AT CHI PHAT COMMUNITY
The journey to get to Chi Phat Community was adventurous to say the least. A comfortable bus from Phnom Penh dropped me at the main highway. From here, a lovely Khmer lady eagerly arranged for a motorbike driver to pick me up. From the main highway, Chi Phat is another 45mins or so, depending on the weather. The roads are muddy and sandy at the best of times and take you through open plains and small grassy hills. Stunning but challenging for those motorbike-illiterate.
A STORMY JOURNEY
My vist was in May. This time of year n Cambodia is just on the cusp of wet season, so afternoon storms and rain are not unusual. And on this particular day – I was lucky to be graced by an afternoon shower and storm. With the utmost grace and professionalism my moto dop driver navigated muddy tracks and roads that had turned to rivers. The sky over head was a deepening grey as thunder rumbled. I squinted my eyes to block the rain as it soaked through my thin raincoat. Take note, when it rains in Cambodia it floods! Make sure you have a sturdy raincoat in your luggage to prevent unwanted showers. After an hour of these treaturous conditions (Ok – maybe not treaturous, but it felt like it at the time!) we reached the edge of a river…just as the rain began to clear! Squelching in my now soggy shoes I thanked my moto driver, clasping my flats hands together in front of my chest in typical Khmer style. The higher your hands, the more respect you give. And as such, hands at the forehead are reserved for monks. The next leg of the journey was a 2 minute ride across the river by ferry. Motos, vegetables and family members huddled onto the wooden platform as we floating across to the otherside of the river. A 5 minute walk through the village, past shops and locals with friendly smiles, and I had arrived. It was getting late as I finally made it to the Chi Phat Community Tourism Office. I had booked a family homestay already and had chosen a day tour to visit nearby waterfalls starting early the next day.
NIGHT IN A HOMESTAY
Boy was I happy to have a bucket shower! I changed into clean clothes and sat down for a delicious meal with my homestay hosts. Say Ty had cooked stirfried ginger chicken, long beans with aromatic spices and an omlette. All served with rice of course. It was delicious! With belly full and need of rest, I slept soundly. In the morning, I chose to eat breakfast at the Chi Phat Community Restaurant. Rice – of course. But it too was delicious! It was not long before I was on the back of a motorbike with my guide heading off to explore the Chi Phat wilderness. The village of Chi Phat is at the bottom of the Cardamom Mountains. The flat plains near the village host farmlands as the nutrient rich soil is perfect for many crops. Agriculture is important for the community here too as tourists only come half the year. Locals say that soon Chi Phat will be renowned for Durian, Cambodia’s spiky, smelly fruit. Bananas, rice, oranges, cucumber, herbs also grow well here and help support family income.
The sky was forgiving on my tour and I managed to stay dry the whole day…minus a couple of swims in the glorious rivers, waterfalls and pools we explored! On the back of the motorbike we zoomed through muddy roads and I admired little villages with a stunning backdrop of mountains. Yet, the region is best explored on foot. For much of the day I had my feet to the ground and my eyes wide. Together with my guide I trekked through little paths that opened up to impressive views of the surrounding wilderness. A packed lunch was had at the banks of a river. And during this time I was able to ask questions to my guide about his family and past. Before Wildlife Alliance came to Chi Phat, he worked mainly on his farm. But, with a growing family, the income wasn’t enough. Like many others in the village, he turned to the forest for support. Poaching wild animals could make you enough for a while, so he did what he could to support his family. Now though, its enough when tourists come. He doesn’t have to do this anymore.
KAYAKING THE RIVER
Together we returned back to the village and I spent the afternoon kayaking along the river upstream from the village. Kingfishers with vibrant blue wings darted across the water. Every now and again I came across a local fishermen. A tentative smile and they showed me their catch, no doubt to feed their families back at the village.
I returned back the village with the kayak and wandered back home. Like the night before, dinner at the homestay was delicious. This time fried fish, mushrooms and a fish soup. For dessert, locally grown rambutans; a small fruit like lychee with a red furry skin. I opted to share a few beers with my homestay family. A merry evening was had, communicating across broken English as I learnt a little Khmer too. The next morning I woke with a little melancholy knowing I would be returning to the big city of Phnom Penh. It’s amazing how quickly you can feel at home in Cambodia. Generosity and warmth are second nature here. After a river crossing by ferry, I was back on a motorbike down dirt roads away again.