WALKING, HIKING AND TREKKING IN CAMBODIA
Useful hiking and trekking tips for Cambodia.
Before you start reading, we want you to know that this article was specifically written for those of you who take hiking/trekking seriously, not only in Cambodia, but anywhere else in the world … therefore, it might not be relevant to everyone.
Most of the community based tourism and ecotourism sites offer some form of walking, hiking and trekking activities to their guests. These activities offer a fantastic opportunity to explore the local area, experience rural village life and see the beauty of protected areas and national parks.
However, if you are serious hiking enthusiast who wants to be challenged and is used to high pace trekking experiences, you might find these activities a little slow. It not to say that they are not interesting, however we feel that it might be useful to know where to set one’s expectations.
Understanding why things are the way they are, might help you to better appreciate what is on offer. First of all, walking is not seen as a desirable outdoor activity by most Cambodians (and probably the rest of the developing countries), but it is a necessity. You walk because you are poor and cannot afford any form of transport. You walk because you need to work in the fields, because you need to fetch the wood or go to the local market to sell your products. Consequently, as soon as you are able to buy yourself a bicycle or moto, you stop walking. Now imagine, you are lucky to have managed to secure some form of transport for yourself, and then these foreign travellers come to your village and they want to walk for “fun” in the middle of the day, in the heat and rain… and they love it. How strange is that?!?!? Now, you might have a little bit more understanding why your host family will warn you about the heat, the rain, the mud and the difficulty of walking/cycling anywhere.
TIPS OF WHAT TO EXPECT AND HOW TO MANAGE YOUR HIKE
- Distance is relative – Personally, I am still to meet a local family that is able to judge a distance correctly. Once again, walking for fun feels different than if you have to carry a heavy load. Be prepared to be told that the lake or water fall is ‘far’, only to find yourself there in 15-20min.
- It will be hot and humid but not that difficult if you are fit and used to hiking in Europe, USA or Australia. Remember most of Cambodia is flat, so there is very little elevation outside of the few mountainous areas.
- Your guide will be amazingly knowledgeable about the local area, local plans and wildlife, so whenever possible ask questions and use him to help you better understand what you see around you.
- Most guides will not be able to read a map, they use local knowledge of the area to navigate their way in the forest. Trying to get them to show you where you are on a map, and getting frustrated about the fact that they refuse, is not helpful to anyone. If you want to know where you are in the forest/local community use your phone’s GPS.
- Your guide might walk slower than you would expect. Yes, this can be extremely frustrating but the best way to deal with this is just to speak to them. They often take out tourists who find the heat difficult to deal with and if they are not very fit to start with, they end up walking very slowly. If possible, demonstrate the speed you find the most comfortable, you might cut your 3 hours hike to 2 hours but in the end that might be more enjoyable for you. Also, check the guides feet – 90% of the time he will be wearing flip-flops, so please be mindful of what’s possible in this very unconventional hiking gear.
- Take photos, you might not break your hiking record in Cambodia but slower pace hikes are a fantastic opportunity to take lots of photos without any getting annoyed with you for slowing down.
- Bring a swimming suit, there seem to be plenty of waterfalls and rivers to dip in during the hike. A great and enjoyable experience!
HOW TO BEST PLAN AND ORGANIZE YOUR HIKE
- Before you book, make sure that your guide understands your expectations, but at the same time be prepared to accept that he/she might not have understood them. Cambodian culture is such that admitting that you don’t understand publicly can be seen as ‘losing face’. Not a good thing. Just keep checking as you travel.
- If you want to have more control over where you are going and what is being planned for you, try to get a local area map to get an understanding what might be interesting and ask the guide to take you there. Look up our activities section for each project, we are constantly trying to update the list of what to do and where to go, so hopefully some other traveler has been to the same place.
- Discuss the food plans for the trip and options with your guide. Most Cambodians eat 3 meals a day, so if you want snacks you most likely will have to bring them yourself.
- It gets hot in the middle of the day (especially during April-May period), so start early.
- Remember to bring mosquito repellent.
Locally guided walks and hikes in community project allow visitors to explore and learn about the local community and environment. They also create opportunities for discussions and knowledge sharing between visitors and their guides, so enjoy it.
If in addition to visiting a community based tourism project, you want to take on a hiking or trekking challenge that will push you physically and mentally, we recommend that you book a trekking experience with a specialized provider that focuses on high intensity physical activity programs.