LET’S RUNAWAY TO KOH SAMSEB!

Maidalin Kong

Scattered in the mighty Mekong river, Koh Samseb Community Based ecotourism is located in Koh Khnae and Puntachea Village, O Krieng Commune, Sambo District, Kratie province. In order to get me to this new community based ecotourism site, it took me about six-and-a half hours by VIP minivan from Phnom Penh and ended up with boat trip. I first arrived at Krong Kracheh, the capital city of Kratie province located in the eastern Cambodia. In order to arrive at my destination- Koh Samseb, I had to catch village shared taxi at the central bus station.

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A tranquil village

The thought of immersing myself into the barrier islands is already a great experience but how about getting around the village and learn about their indigenous cultures and their daily life? Staying with local people is an overwhelming experience and I could say that it was also my one in a lifetime experience. During my journey to the destination, I could not take my eyes off from the unspoiled panorama along the way. Everything was lush green. Green trees, green plants and with rural khmer houses that were dominated by trees. The driver told me about his family and his village with a smile plastered on his face. He was in a state of excitement and I assumed that he must be pleased with his life living in his peaceful village.

In the late afternoon, we finally arrived in front of stilted wooden house but I was not sure if it was the house that I was going to stay. The first thing I noticed was the rural orange dirt road with clear blue sky in palm trees plantation. There is a small market which has been established to supply the daily needs to the people. The atmosphere was quiet, accompany with the bird chirping in the village. I saw local people smiled at me and there was two guys smiling sheepishly, standing in front of the house and coming to our way to greet me and my friends. One of them is local tour guide and the other guy is a boat driver. They led us to the landscape on rocky bank of river. Mr. Som ol who is local tour guide tried to lend us a hand to hop on the traditional wooden long tail boat down the river. I was a bit trembling from unsteadiness anxiety on the boat but later on I could kept my balance and everything seemed very fine and normal. The boat had a great size which accommodated us nicely. Everyone put on their life jacket and we were ready to go!

Flock to the islands and river sightseeing

The colorful motorized wooden boat without a roof on top, was setting off to the middle of the river. The river traffic is really light and I was really happy to see there was no cities or industrial zones along its banks which was calm and more placid. Mr. Somol sat at the head of wooden boat while he was telling us about what we were going to see with this nature tour along Mekong river. He told us that we would encounter some endangered bird species at birding hotspots. The serene boat ride along the floating forest under the sunlight that reflected its color sphere on the river, was worth a trip. I admired the way Mr. Sokha who is a boat driver, handled the boat smoothly even in windy conditions and choppy water. All of a sudden, I caught a glimpse of a group of Brahman bulls and Buffalos were swimming together, trying to escape the tropical heat with a dip in a river. I asked Mr. Samol if all these bulls and buffalos are belonged to someone. He answered me “Yes. These bulls and buffalos were set free during dry season. When monsoon-season comes, they eventually go back to their owner because they have to serve as ‘living tractors’ for farming families.” I finally understand that the relationship between water buffalo and humans in Cambodia is integral to continuing their agricultural way of life.

After an hour of boat ride, we arrived to one of the most beautiful islands of Koh SamSeb called “Koh Ksach Kpous”. The boat was pulled over and we got off the boat and walked around the island. The island was covered completely in sand and some small plants, grass and some big trees. The cloud was suddenly dark, looked like it was really coming out there soon. I walked around the island and happened to see old campfire site with rests of burnt wood. I heard from the Mr. Somol said that a couple of weeks ago, tourists came to visit this island and they did camping and campfire on this island. I was surprised when he said that we can catch fish in this river to cook for our meal. He also mentioned that there was a fisherman stays on this island everyday waiting to catch some fish with his net fishing. It is really normal here that fishers have relied on the incredible bounty in the Mekong River system because it helps to sustain their living. I kept on walking until I saw a river shoreline and beautiful flow of water which was shallow enough for everyone to take a dip. I rippled the water from river on my hand and felt it coldness. I want to swim but unfortunately I didn’t bring extra clothes for swimming. The cloud was getting darker and obviously it was going to rain. We quickly got on the boat back to homestay where we were going to spend a night there. On the way back, I could see a large flock of Black Cormorants were on the cliffs near our boat which easily for us to approach them. Such an amazing scene I have seen when they were staying together like a family like this.

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A warm welcome from host

The loud rumbling of thunderclap and brightness of lighting struck before us. We were lucky that we got to the homestay before it was raining. I was very impressed with the wooden house built on stilts with a roof in sheet metal. It looked like a new built spacious house. The host family welcome us with a big smile before we entered the house. Suddenly the electricity was cut off and everything was dark. The brother of the host family tried to find torch light and turned it on for us so that we were not in completely darkness. We were sitting downstairs with one of the host family members. We found out that our host has a big family with nine people living under one roof. The children were running and playing around with each other. We were really hungry after a long trip. The dinner was served when we arrived there not too long. All the family members came to seat around us and we asked them to join the meal with us. We chit chat about this and that. The food was incredibly delicious and we told them about it. They could not take off their smile because they said they were really excited when we come and spend our time with them. I was really grateful when I heard that and I really got the warm feeling from them.

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Live like a local

After a big tasteful meal, we finally went up to the house and saw the mattress, pillows, mosquito net and blankets was already arranged neatly. I dropped down my big hulking backpack. The white light bulb was placed on the ceiling which was gleaming from the power generated from battery. The weather was cold but I still had to take a shower. I went down to the find the bathroom was at the back of the house near their mini garden. I was not surprised by the plywood built bathroom and water was put in the bucket because as a Cambodian, it was very normal to have this type of bathroom at rural area. After the cold shower, I had slumped into bed. I laid there, reliving the happy moment of today’s trip over and over.

Last memories

The next morning, I was woke up from the sound of rooster crowing. The sunshine passed through my window pane, remind me that it is time for me to leave. I had such a great time here. When my phone signal was weak, my mind was at peace. It felt like I was visiting my family relatives, like we all live in the same roof, sharing the different story of life and exchange smile and laugh together.

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