KOH PREAH HOMESTAY ON THE MEKONG
The best thing about the Koh Preah Island Homestay? Everything. The Mekong river region of Stung Treng province in the North of Cambodia is truly something special. Wide open waterways with unique islands, amazing sunsets, Irrawaddy Dolphins and incredibly hospitable locals. Koh Preah is nestled close to the border of Kratie and Stung Treng and it did everything to live up to its name: it literally means Island of God. From the moment I stepped onto the ferry, a 4m x 4m wooden platform that somehow managed to transport me across the river to the island, I was hooked. Koh Preah is nothing short of amazing. Off the beaten track, the island offers a true sense of Cambodian hospitality.
Hitch hiking on National Road 7
My backpacker budget meant that a boat ride direct from Kratie was out of the question. I opted for a local bus which dropped me at place called Aur Por Moan, before the bus continued left onto Stung Treng. Aur Por Moan, is a side of the road bus station/restaurant with many different vehicles going this way and that: left to Stung Treng and right to Ratanakiri. After finding someone who could speak enough English to help me, I figured out I needed to retrace my steps down National Road 7 before turning right. I found a moto dop driving willing to take me to the Koh Preah ferry and before I knew it I was flying back down the highway.
After 20 minutes we turned, and spent another 30minutes riding through farmland. Towards the end of the journey the roads turned dusty before we pulled up to the Mekong river. The Koh Preah ferry sat waiting at the bottom of a concrete ramp. The ferry is a 4m x 4m wooden platform tied to a long boat with a motor. Five minutes and 1000 riel later I was across the river and had arrived on Koh Preah Island.
A Koh Preah Homestay welcome
I did not have to wait for long before a Khmer man, with a smile that reached from ear to ear, pulled up on a Honda dream motorbike. Say Lom, a community leader, tourism manager and boat driver was a sure character. A happy go lucky indiviudla which I later realised was typical of island culture in Cambodia. I immediately felt at home, eyes wide, gawking at the beautiful island scenery as Say Lom drove me to my homestay.
First impressions of the island: natural. It is not often you see wild growing flora in Cambodia. At Koh Preah Island Homestay the afternoon light highlighted the islands natural beauty perfectly. Vines, shrubs and trees all intermingled as birds flittered above me. Say Lom pointed at a obviously brand new building, made from wood. I later found out this was a school, built by volunteers visitinng the island. Koh Preah receives many international visitors- all looking to make their impact. Across the island were signs of helpers – watertanks, vegetable gardens, animal pens and larger projects like the local hospital and school that Soy Lom and I whizzed past on the motorbike.
Before long, we reached the western coast, took a right, and slowly drove through the village. Gorgeous orange light from the setting sun illuminated luscious green vegetable gardens, a grand golden painted stupa and quaint wooden Khmer houses. Children smiled at me, going the opposite way on rickety bicycles. What a dream! I hadn’t even reached the homestay and I already felt like I had been transported somewhere completely new.
When I reached the homestay I was greeted by more of that typical Cambodian hospitality with a genuine, warm smile from a lovely lady by the name of Sithy. Sithy had two daughters who both went to school on the island. The house was made from wood, with steps leading up to the top level. I placed my bags down at my bed, a basic mattress, pillow and blanket with a brightly colour silk divider for privacy.
In broken English, Say Lom and I arranged to meet the next morning – a boat trip on the Mekong to watch for Irrawaddy Dolphins was planned before a short tour of the village on the back of his moto. I spent the night eating delicious Khmer food (lots and lots of it!) before an early night, tired from the day of travelling.
Dolphins and flooded forest boat trip
Sithy had woken up early to prepare morning glory with sautéed garlic and soy sauce – served with grilled pork and rice. After breakfast, Say Lom and I walked down to the banks of the Mekong where a long wooden boat was waiting.
The boat trip was nothing short of peaceful. Early morning on the Mekong birds were aplenty. The boat hummed quietly along the water and I couldn’t stop taking photos of the beautiful early morning light.
We spent the first part of our journey searching for Dolphins. Although Kratie is well know for the fresh water species, Stung Treng province is also home to the Dolphins. This morning did not disappoint. Say Lom switched off the motor of the boat and we floated for what seemed like forever watching the special creatures pop their heads up from the water.
After an hour or so we travelled by boat to explore hidden canals and waterways that weave their way through small islands. Before we headed back to Koh Preah the boat stopped at a sandy bank – a quick swim before returning to the island.
With only an hour to spare, I jumped on the back of Say Lom’s motorbike and he whizzed me to different spots in the village. It was clear he was very proud of his community and pointed to every place volunteers had supported the island. We stopped to watch a lady producing rice whisky, eyed off luscious looking herbs in local veggie gardens and had another quick look at the newly built school.
With an onward journey calling, I quickly stopped in at my homestay to thank Sithy for hosting me before heading back on the ferry across to the mainland. With a moto dop waiting, I turned to wave goodbye to what was a glorious Mekong island experience.
For those looking for an authentic, un-touched local experience, look no further than the My weekend escape to Koh Trong IslandKoh Preah Island Homestay. Seriously good.